Brandee Peart of Duncan, BC, and her husband were out celebrating their anniversary when their nine-month-old daughter started choking on a piece of Lego. Thankfully, their teenaged babysitter knew what to do. But many people don’t: According to Safe Kids Canada, each year roughly 291 Canadian kids under 14 are hospitalized — and 39 die — from choking and suffocation-related injuries. (Nearly 80 percent of these incidents involve children aged five and under.)
How can you keep your kids safe?
1. Supervise eating time
A child can choke to death in two to four minutes, so stay within arm’s reach. It’s also important that kids sit quietly while eating — jumping, goofing around and eating on the run increase the chance food will end up in the windpipe, stresses Michael Dickinson, a Miramichi, NB, paediatrician and Canadian Paediatric Society spokesperson.
2. Hold off on high-risk foods
Small, hard, round, rubbery or sticky foods (candy, gum, nuts, etc.) shouldn’t be given before age five. When feeding kids this age peanut butter, be sure to spread it thinly.
3. Reshape risky edibles
Until kids are at least four, cut hot dogs lengthwise then slice into small pieces, says Alyson McKendrick, coordinator of Safe Start, the injury prevention program at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. Quarter grapes and grape tomatoes, and cook, mash or finely grate fruits and veggies.
4. Reiterate rules
Ensure caregivers know your food safety rules.
5. Stow hazardous items
Keep latex balloons, coins, jewellery, small magnets and button-style batteries out of reach. Note age recommendations on toys with small parts, and when in doubt, try the toilet roll test: If an object fits through, it’s a potential choking hazard.
6. Inspect play areas
Regularly get down to your child’s eye level and scan for hazards like coins underneath the couch cushions. Sweep and vacuum frequently, and teach older siblings to stow small toys safely out of reach.
Top 10 choking culprits
• hot dogs*
• candy (gel candies especially), gum
• nuts, seeds, popcorn
• hard veggie or fruit chunks
• un-inflated or popped latex balloons*
• small balls, marbles
• button-style batteries and magnets
• small toy parts
*A US study found the leading culprits in lethal choking deaths were latex balloons (29% of deaths) and hot dogs (17%).
This article was originally published in August 2010.