March 12th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Doctors: Still too many stair-related injuries among children

Between 1999 and 2008, the number of children younger than age 5 treated in the emergency room for stair-related injuries declined, according to research published in the journal Pediatrics this week.

Yet experts say the number is still too high.

"The staggering statistic is that we continue to see a child, on average, every six minutes in this country rushed to a hospital emergency department with a stair-related injury," said Dr. Gary A. Smith, study author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Researchers looked at data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which shows almost 932,000 children were treated for these injuries during those 10 years.

About 3% of the children were hospitalized from concussions and hemorrhages in the brain. Most had injuries to the head and neck region, including bumps and bruises; however, sometimes an accident resulted in a cut or scrape, or a fracture to the thigh or arm.

The greatest number of injuries were seen in patients at the age of one. More than half were male.

Most were injured without reporting the use of a specific object, yet some were using a baby walker or stroller.

Among the more seriously injured children were those being carried by a parent or caretaker.  Smith speculates that multi-tasking played a role.

"For children younger than one, about one-quarter of them were injured while being carried on the stairs by an adult," he said.

The less frequent use of baby walkers and an updated design of the walkers since the mid-90s has played a role in the overall injury decline, he said.

Smith gives this advice to parents and others who care for a child:  "If you have to take the child up and down stairs, take only the child in your arm and leave that other arm free to hold onto the railing so if you do stumble or slip, you can help prevent the fall," he said. "But the best thing to do if you're taking a trip up and down the stairs, [is] just leave your child in a safe place - put them in the crib."

He also offers these suggestions as layers of protection for child safety:

-Have a practical handrail that your entire hand can grip, in the event that you lose your balance.  If you have a decorative one, you can install a second railing opposite it.

-Use hard-mounted baby gates.  Pressure-mounted gates may work themselves loose over time and should only be used at the bottom of the stairs.

-Homeowners can mark the edge of each step with paint to make it clearer where the edge is.

He advises builders to consider stair-related injuries during new construction.

"We need to design environments that have safety in mind," he said. "Every home when it is constructed should have a gate, because in the lifetime of the home, it's exceedingly common to have a child live or visit. So the default should be to build with it, then parents can remove it later if they wish."

In addition, Smith says the lack of uniformity on the stair design causes people to stumble and fall. He says this huge problem is a simple, cheap and easy fix for builders.

"The take-home message is to try to design and engineer the problem out of existence so that kids don't get put in harm's way," he noted. "Kids at this age are changing and developing very rapidly. That's why that age group is often getting into trouble- because they're developing so quickly that parents are having a hard time anticipating it and they're very curious."

"We want them to challenge themselves, we want them to explore - that is how they're going to learn, develop and grow," he continued. "We need to provide a safe environment so that they can do that without paying the price of a broken bone."

Dr. Young-Jin Sue, an emergency room pediatrician at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, agrees.

"You feel like you know what your child is capable of one moment, but in the next days or weeks that can change," she said. "There's really no substitute when it comes to constant supervision when it comes to young children."

soundoff (702 Responses)
  1. Soulcatcher

    The problem is my shoe size is 10.5 US but the stair is 12 inches and the overhang on the stairs is 2. This means I walk down the stairs without my whole foot on the stair.

    Yes the problem is design, but also not using tha hand rail or having an inadequate hand rail. Hand rail should be on the right hand side- most people right handed I think carry child in the left arm- i do and walk down sideways.

    I've slipped down whole flights of stairs on my own even with holding a hand rail- ripped it right out of the wall.

    March 12, 2012 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Liz1388

    Five kids (3 boys) in a two-story home also with steps to basement and off front porch. Not one fall of kid of adult, including when elderly. KInd of wondering what we did right. Bicycle accidents though – another story.

    March 12, 2012 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • George

      Let me guess: the kids were riding their bicycles down the stairs? 🙂 I'm the youngest of 9, and am now almost 47 years old. I grew up in houses with stairs, and have only fallen once (due to dizziness from illness). Part of the problem is our fast paced lifestyle. Children aren't taught to walk up and down the stairs; they're taught to run as fast as possible, as it would be a sinful waste of time to spend an extra 10-15 seconds to navigate the territory.

      March 13, 2012 at 02:45 | Report abuse |
  3. Mister Marty

    I think President Obama should appoint a stair czar and enact a stair tripping eradication program. This "STEP"' law will provide funding through a millionaire tax to allow disadvantaged and disenchanted low income minorities to receive free funding and training to reduce this tragic stair holocaust caused by greedy corporate stair builders who only care about profits.

    March 12, 2012 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sameeker

      What a stinking jerk.

      March 13, 2012 at 00:06 | Report abuse |
    • dogrum1

      Back in your cage troll!

      March 13, 2012 at 00:19 | Report abuse |
    • LOL

      Are you kidding? That's the funniest thing I've seen all day!

      March 13, 2012 at 01:03 | Report abuse |
    • Angi Stamm

      Hilarious! LOL

      March 13, 2012 at 02:19 | Report abuse |
  4. Spencer

    Wwow, better make then illegal! they are obviously bad for your health. probably should tax them also.

    March 12, 2012 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. dd

    The Obama solution is simple. Ban kids from homes. Call planned parenthood and let them use their tools that stop kids!

    March 12, 2012 at 23:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AGuest9

      For people who shouldn't have children, I agree.

      March 12, 2012 at 23:37 | Report abuse |
    • ziggy

      Planned Parenthood should be sued for not having your mother abort you

      March 13, 2012 at 01:46 | Report abuse |
  6. dd

    Australian Liberal Academics have a great solution. They are now arguing for the abortion of kids after birth. Yes, you can do away with your kid before they injure themselves up to age 18!

    March 12, 2012 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kidred77

      too bad your parents didn't opt for that

      March 13, 2012 at 01:14 | Report abuse |
    • Romiyo

      Hi Petra, don't worry we will be here waiting for you when your move is over and the final box unpcaked Internet and especially broadband access might take a little bit longer. Last time we moved it took me 2+weeks to get me fully back onnline ;-( Hope it is quicker for you. As for additional exercise, great idea, run up and down the steps AND carry something doing so really could do the trick! SY.-= hospitalera@Geld mit Googleb4s last blog .. =-.

      October 14, 2012 at 01:12 | Report abuse |
  7. Zoomba

    See the CNN article about online comments: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/11/tech/web/online-comments-sxsw/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

    March 12, 2012 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Henry Miller

    What's that? A hundred times more than the number of kids who get hurt by guns? Where's all the shrieking for stair control? Laws mandating stair gates in house where kids under 18 live. State inspections of those houses. Laws prohibiting multi-storey houses.

    March 12, 2012 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Android

    Hey, once I slipped down the steps. Actually, it wasn't really steps, but really a big greased ramp.

    I slid down two stories, then through a fruit stand, then across an oily wooden floor and out a special window designed to tilt outward to allow me to actually fall out of the house and continue across the yard on a slip-n-slide only to end up being stopped by a giant pile of nacho cheese covered foam peanuts.

    They should ban that.

    March 12, 2012 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • William Fitzsimmons

      They should ban you from telling jokes.

      March 12, 2012 at 23:16 | Report abuse |
  10. William Fitzsimmons

    Ban stairs and you won't have this problem anymore. Replace them with padded ramps.

    If it can cause harm it must be banned.

    March 12, 2012 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Stair Terror

    We've been building stairs as an "advanced" civilization for centuries. No, really. I can prove it. The funny part is we've been going up and down them just as long too.

    If insurance companies want to save money (which is really what this article is all about and probably written by them or at their request), just lobby the Govt to mandate "safety first soft-houses". We could get a tax break if we allow the Consumer Protection Agency and Health and Human Services to come into our homes and throw everything away that might harm us or kill us in any way imaginable (so...everything) and provide us with the retrofitting of padded everything with in our homes. They can just board up any rooms you may have on a second level or basement and just remove the stairs all together so you're not tempted to throw yourself down the stairs like most of us are after reading articles like this. I would also like to see restraints added to any bedding that may be allowed in the "safety first soft-houses". Many people get injured or killed by simply sleeping but I'll keep those stats to myself so I don't spoil your next article.

    March 12, 2012 at 23:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. ohWell

    I think they should be outlaw stairs along with walking on the sidewalk and drinking water. I hear people fall on the sidewalk and often break a hip and some people choke while drinking water. Were in the heck did our society come up with the notion they can create a totally safe environment. It doesn't exist. I'm 55 and if you should be dead based on all the "unsafe" products I was raised with from the baby crib I slept in with bars "too wide" to the playground that had hard dirt. Enough stupidity and the sad thing is this stuff comes from "educated people". Educated from where "the college of fools"?

    March 12, 2012 at 23:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Daveil

    Obviously this is a women's health issue that should be addressed by Obamacare. The Secretary of Health needs to require insurance companies to cover the cost of elevators at no charge to consumers or just ban multi-story housing outright.

    March 12, 2012 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
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  15. Yossarian

    (Pusher robot)
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    March 12, 2012 at 23:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Boater

    Why ban stairs? What'd they do to deserve this? Instead, ban walking until a child is of the legal age of 18!

    March 12, 2012 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. SSampson

    passive eugenics.....

    Everyone falls down stairs at least once in their lives – Must we find yet another thing to blame our stupidity upon??

    (oh – and it isn't an Pbama care issue as some people talked abot – please – enough with that stuff already)

    March 12, 2012 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Alex R

    Kids are kids. They MUST fail, they MUST hurt themselves somehow – this is the only way they can learn. So nothing wrong in this 'every 6 minutes' except that parents should not protect their kids from the stairs, but vice versa, help them to fail in a safe manner few times so they learn earlier what the stairs are.

    March 13, 2012 at 00:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CR from CA

      Although being in a permanent vegetative state from a head injury kind of diminishes the value of the learning curve.

      March 13, 2012 at 00:43 | Report abuse |
  19. rapidron

    3 words... slow... news... day!

    March 13, 2012 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. CR from CA

    I think this is evolution's way of culling clumsy people from the gene pool. Of course, the intelligent design people and the evangelicals will claim this is all part of God's master plan. Real question is whether prayer can save stupid clumsy people from falling down stairs with a kid in their arms while they are talking on their cell phone.

    March 13, 2012 at 00:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. NeverInaMillion

    For all the injuries the stairs cause, I wonder if there's an equal amount of good they also do. Perhaps the kids and adults that live in two-storey houses get a bit more daily exercise than those that don't, which might, just might, result in a bit more health in the long run. I'll bet I go up and down my steps 20 times per day every day at least. That's got to be better than not having stairs, even if there's a risk of falling. I would think our small children may have had an advantage in physical development going up and down them as well. For many bad things, there is an opposite benefit, meaning either case (with or without stairs in this case) provides BOTH risks and benefits.

    March 13, 2012 at 00:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. SoloLupo

    "The greatest number of injuries were seen in patients at the age of one. More than half were male." See what happens when you drop a child on it's head while on the steps – you get Santorum, Romney, and Gingrich.

    March 13, 2012 at 00:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CR from CA

      ... and Bachmann, and Palin, and the entire Tea Party ...

      March 13, 2012 at 00:44 | Report abuse |
    • toadears

      and arrogant idealists who laugh and ridicule others and then get fat in the middle years...oh wait...that's ALL Americans. Oops.

      March 13, 2012 at 01:53 | Report abuse |
  23. Sandy

    Open floor plans are harder to child proof than conventional ones. New houses have higher ceilings and open loft areas, so the staircases are steep and railings make installing child safety gates a challenge. People also try to save a few dollars and only put safety gates at the top of the stairs, but they need to be at the bottom of the stairs too, because kids DO try to climb the stairs and can fall down on their way up. Some designs make it really hard to put a gate at the foot of the stairs. Childproofing some houses make it easy to understand why they used to use playpens to keep kids safe.

    March 13, 2012 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. glu

    god forbid anybody should ever get hurt, bunch of softies, grow a spine.

    March 13, 2012 at 01:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. glu

    I once fell "up" a flight of stairs, from the bottom all the way to the top, 16 steps in all.

    March 13, 2012 at 01:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. toadears

    Then by all means let's outlaw them! Come on PC crowd! Ban those stairs. Ban those stairs. Maybe if American kids weren't so fat and clumsy, they wouldn't keep falling down on them.

    March 13, 2012 at 01:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. barb

    I've never heard such stupid comments......wow. everyone to their own.......unless your the one in a body cast...

    March 13, 2012 at 01:53 | Report abuse | Reply
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