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February 22nd, 2010
10:41 AM ET

Pediatricians group issues anti-choking guidelines

By Jennifer Bixler
CNN Medical Executive Producer

Spend time with a baby or toddler and you learn that one thing is nearly universal: They love putting things in their mouth. It's one of the ways they learn about the world around them. But sometimes, curiosity can be dangerous. A study that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine found a child dies every five days from choking. Now the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling on food manufacturers to require warning labels on foods that can cause children to choke. According to AAP, choking is the leading cause of death of children under age 3. Hot dogs, hard candy, even peanut butter are among the culprits.

“No one wants to see kids suffer,” says Dr. Gary Smith, author of the AAP’s new policy statement. (link here). “We need as a society to provide them with safe environments. There’s not a food manufacturer out there that would disagree with that.”

Smith and his colleagues are also asking food manufacturers to avoid making food in shapes and sizes that may cause children to choke. (So far, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has not commented on the recommendations.)

Smith says hot dogs pose the greatest danger. He says their shape and compressible texture will seal off a child’s airway and are hard to wedge out. Peanuts and raw carrots are also dangerous, but for a different reason. Toddlers typically don’t have molars, so they can easily choke on chunks of those hard foods.

So parents, what should you watch out for? Smith says it’s always best to err on the side of caution, but if you are going to feed your child hot dogs, for example, be sure to cut them in extremely small pieces. Also, doctors suggest waiting to introduce things like raw carrots and nuts into a child’s diet until their teeth are fully formed.

Smith hopes the food industry will take a cue from the automobile industry and make these changes. “Safety sells,” says Smith. “ You can take something like this and see it as an opportunity and not a burden … watching kids die, that’s not acceptable.”

em>CNN's Caitlin Hagan contributed to this report.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.