Pediatricians urge choking warning labels for food

February 22, 2010 By LINDSEY TANNER , AP Medical Writer
Joan Stavros Adler sits in her home Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010, in Warren, N.J., as she holds a photograph of her son Eric Stavros Adler, who choked to death on a piece of hot dog nine years ago at age four. Nine years later, some food makers including Oscar Mayer have added warning labels about choking, but not nearly enough, says Joan Stavros Adler. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

(AP) -- When 4-year-old Eric Stavros Adler choked to death on a piece of hot dog, his anguished mother never dreamed that the popular kids' food could be so dangerous.

Some makers including Oscar Mayer have warning labels about choking, but not nearly enough, says Joan Stavros Adler, Eric's mom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. The nation's largest pediatricians group is calling for sweeping changes in the way food is designed and labeled to minimize children's chances for choking.

Choking kills more than 100 U.S. children 14 years or younger each year and thousands more - 15,000 in 2001 - are treated in emergency rooms. Food, including candy and gum, is among the leading culprits, along with items like coins and balloons. Of the 141 choking deaths in kids in 2006, 61 were food-related.

Surveillance systems lack detailed information about food choking incidents, which are thought to be underreported but remain a significant and under-appreciated problem, said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Smith is lead author of a new policy report from the pediatrics academy that seeks to make choking prevention a priority for government and food makers. The report was released Monday in the .

Doctors say high-risk foods, including hot dogs, raw carrots, grapes and apples - should be cut into pea-sized pieces for small children to reduce chances of choking. Some say other risky foods, including hard candies, popcorn, peanuts and marshmallows, shouldn't be given to young children at all.

Federal law requires choking warning labels on certain toys including small balls, balloons and games with small parts. Unless food makers voluntarily put more warning labels on high-risk foods, there should be a similar mandate for food, the pediatrics academy says.

Adler, a Warren, N.J. attorney who pushed for more warning labels after her son died in 2001, says she hopes the academy's efforts will work. Several efforts to pass federal legislation for labels have failed in Congress.

The group also urges the Food and Drug Administration to work with other government agencies to establish a nationwide food-related choking reporting system; and to recall foods linked with choking.

The academy says the food industry should avoid shapes and sizes that pose choking risks.

Something as simple as making lollipops flat like a silver dollar instead of round like a pingpong ball can make a big difference, said Bruce Silverglade, legal affairs director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which also has lobbied for more attention to choking prevention.

Grocery Manufacturers Association spokesman Scott Openshaw declined to say whether food makers would consider or new designs, but said making parents aware of choking dangers is key to keeping kids safe.

Openshaw said the industry would continue working with the FDA and USDA "to ensure that our products are as safe as possible."

At the FDA, spokeswoman Rita Chappelle said the agency will review the academy's analysis and recommendations. She said the FDA also would continue consulting with the Consumer Product Safety Commission on assessing choking hazards associated with food and take action on a case-by-case basis.

Adler considered herself educated about children's safety. Her son had eaten hot dogs before without any problem.

Hot dogs are "almost as American as apple pie," she said. "You really don't know how horrible it can be."

More information:


Related Stories

Recommended for you

Baby teethers soothe, but many contain low levels of BPA

December 7, 2016

Bisphenol-A (BPA), parabens and antimicrobials are widely used in personal care products and plastics. The U.S. and other governments have banned or restricted some of these compounds' use in certain products for babies and ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2010
I 've known about the problems of choking in kids for over thirty years.
The choking problem of hot dogs and unchewed pieces of meat etc is very easily understood by anyone with rudimentary skills.
The fact CERTAIN parents cannot **obviously** BE a parent should not cost the food industry huge amounts of cash to TELL these people their kids CAN choke on food.
Once they DO allow stupid parents of dead children to make the rules based on stupidity they will open the doors for these stupid parents to sue a company which has and is doing EVERYTHING right EXCEPT to protect or try to protect children FROM stupid .. parents.
Imho ..
Pediatricians are just try
not rated yet Feb 22, 2010
Choking labels and other such labels usually seem to be more about liability than harm prevention. With all of the warning labels thrown at people today, they're often ignored or dismissed. Trying to get complanies to put labels on their product that basically say "Don't buy this product" is unfair to the company: These are hotdogs, not cigarettes. I feel bad for the mother and understand her quest, but I doubt this kind of a fix would do anything.

"Of the 141 choking deaths in kids in 2006, 61 were food-related."

That's a very low number hand picked from 2006. Especially when you think about how many kids are eating chokable foods right now.

The reshaping of food an interesting idea, but is impractical for all foods. Often foods, such as the above metioned "high-risk" carrots, come in their shape because that's how they're grown in nature. To force farmers/distibuters to reshape all of their food would likely strike a crippling blow to any kind of local food production.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2010
We should put a sticker on sperm, saying "Warning: the offspring may choke as toddlers, later get run over in traffic, later succumb to drugs, later die of liver cirrhosis. DO NOT USE, UNLESS YOU ARE CAPABLE OF ASSUMING FULL RESPONSIBILITY AND UNDERSTAND THE IMPLICATIONS."
not rated yet Feb 23, 2010
It's sad of course but give natural selection a chance. A little chlorine in the gene pool is a GOOD THING!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.