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UCLA physician launches campaign against childhood choking

Did you know that one child dies every five days from a food choking accident?
Did you know that one child dies every five days from a food choking accident?
Robin Wulffson, MD

Did you know that one child dies every five days from a food choking accident? On April 9, Dr. Nina Shapiro, professor of head and neck surgery and director of pediatric ear, nose and throat at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, announced that she was launching a crowdfunding campaign to educate the public about this problem. She explains that every time she treats a child for food choking, the frightened parent says the same thing, “If I had only known it was not safe, I would not have given it to my child!” She notes that popcorn, hot dogs, and grapes are among the favorite foods of many young kids; however, these foods can easily get lodged in a child’s airway and cause choking accidents and death. She cites the following facts:

  • One child dies every five days from a food choking accident.
  • Over 10,000 children visit emergency rooms each year from choking on food.
  • Choking is the fourth leading cause of accidental death in children under age five.
  • The most common objects causing fatal choking in children under age three are food, not toys.
  • The most common cause of non-fatal choking accidents in children under age five is food, not toys.

Dr. Shapiro is utilizing UCLA Spark, which is a new online crowdfunding platform focused on providing fundraising support for pioneering projects underway at UCLA. With the help of UCLA Spark, she is launching a public awareness campaign about foods that can cause choking. She has the goal of raising at least $5,000 to, Shapiro will use the funds to spur the EatSAFE project, which will create educational print and website material to distribute to 10,000 or more families. Dr. Shapiro is active on social media sites such as Twitter and has her own blog. She was attracted to the concept of crowdfunding because it allows others to support the message behind the grass-roots campaign; thus, these individuals will feel like they are part of a larger group that can make a difference. She explains, “Unlike toys, foods are not labeled for safety. Until we can obtain legislation to mandate that foods be labeled, it is my goal to provide better education and information to as many parents, caregivers, daycare centers and preschools about high-risks foods that should not be given to kids.”

Dr. Shapiro explains that many high-risk foods are healthy; however, the forms in which they are served put children at risk for choking. The reasons behind the increased risk is that young children have underdeveloped swallowing mechanisms, immature teeth, and narrow airways. In addition, the diameter of a child's airway is about the size of their little finger; thus, high-risk foods can easily block their small airways and prevent breathing.

The EatSAFE materials will provide invaluable information regarding foods to avoid, tips for prevention, and what to do if a child starts choking. The crowdfunding campaign will be hosted by UCLA Spark for 30 days from April 9 through May 8. Throughout the month, updates on the project’s progress will be posted. They will include print materials and information regarding how to spot choking hazards. You can follow the dialogue on Twitter at #EatSAFE. For additional information, click on this link.