Preventing deaths of children in hot cars through better messaging

September 20, 2017 by Jessica Luton, University of Georgia

Each year, dozens of young children die after being locked in a hot car, but new research from the University of Georgia's department of geography shows that most parents don't believe it could happen to them.

Their findings, published recently in the journal Injury Prevention, could help improve public health and prevent more deaths.

Department of geography doctoral student Castle Williams and professor Andrew Grundstein interviewed and caregivers as well as experts in meteorology, epidemiology, psychology and child injury about the topic. The results show significant differences in the ways in which parents and experts understood and received information about the dangers of hot cars.

Overall the study shows that a parent's own ability to acknowledge their likelihood of accidentally forgetting a child in a hot car is an important factor in improving public health messaging and preventing deaths in the future.

"This work is extremely important to everyday moms and dads because it can hopefully convince other parents or caregivers that they too are vulnerable to this tragedy," said Williams. "Until we can convince parents that this can happen to anyone, we are going to continue to see case after case of children being forgotten in hot cars."

The research also showed that, unlike the experts, parents often thought that these incidents happened as a result of intentional behavior by a parent or caretaker or that lifestyle factors, such as low income, increased an individual's likelihood of forgetting a child in a car.

In July 2017 alone, 11 children in the U.S. died in cars as a result of vehicular heatstroke. Understanding how different populations-including pediatricians, parents and public health experts-receive information increases the likelihood of preventing deaths through more effective public health messaging.

"These research findings are significant for any individuals who create public health messaging to better inform the public at large," said Williams. "While experts have insisted that parents don't believe they can forget their children in hot cars, until this study there has not been any data to prove it. Further, with the majority of these hot car deaths being accidental and not intentional, this study helps us better understand why parents do not feel vulnerable, and ways in which public health messaging can engage, reach and increase caregivers' vulnerability to reduce the number of incidents that occur each year."

Future health messaging, said Williams, must strive to engage and reach all parents or caregivers using a multifaceted messaging strategy. Tactics such as personalized messaging, providing additional resources to news media, strengthening the relationships between and journalists and ramping up messaging just before or during heat and temperature increases can all be effective strategies for improving messaging.

"I urge parents and caregivers, practitioners, pediatricians and day care providers to examine the results of my study and potentially implement some of the communication and behavioral suggestions that I recommend," said Williams. "It is my hope that practitioners and organizations that create and distribute risk information on this topic realize that there is a difference in the way they believe parents and obtain information and how they actually receive information about this issue."

Explore further: Campaign increases likelihood parents will ask about guns before a playdate

More information: Castle A Williams et al. Children forgotten in hot cars: a mental models approach for improving public health messaging, Injury Prevention (2017). DOI: 10.1136/injuryprev-2016-042261

Related Stories

Campaign increases likelihood parents will ask about guns before a playdate

September 15, 2017
The Asking Saves Kids (ASK) campaign is effective in increasing parents' comfort level in asking if there is a gun where their child plays, according to research being presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) ...

Riding a slide while on a parent's lap increases the risk of injury

September 15, 2017
Going down a slide on a parent's lap can lead to a broken leg for small children. An estimated 352,698 children less than 6 years of age were injured on slides in the United States from 2002 through 2015, and many of those ...

Secure messaging linked to better diabetes management

August 22, 2017
(HealthDay)—For patients with diabetes, use of secure messaging for medical advice is associated with better diabetes management, according to a study published online Aug. 14 in Diabetes Care.

Understanding motivations for behavior can be helpful for children with autism

January 26, 2017
For many families, normal activities, such as going to a large family gathering or an amusement park, can be difficult to navigate with a child with autism, as the child may act out due to being overwhelmed by extra noises ...

Study underscores benefit of smartphone use to track children's health

March 21, 2017
A new, wide-ranging review of available research shows parents and caregivers can improve health outcomes for kids by using mobile-phone apps and text messaging.

CDC: Fatal abusive head trauma among children down in the US

May 30, 2016
(HealthDay)—Half as many infants and preschoolers in the United States are dying from abusive head trauma as in 2009, according to research published in the May 27 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's ...

Recommended for you

Breastfeeding protects infants from antibiotic-resistant bacteria

October 18, 2018
A recent study completed at the University of Helsinki investigated the amount and quality of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in breast milk and gut of mother-infant pairs. The findings have been published in the journal Nature ...

Inflammation in the womb may explain why some babies are more prone to sepsis after birth

October 9, 2018
Each year 15 million infants are born preterm and face high risks of short- and long-term complications, including sepsis, severe inflammation of the gut, and neurodevelopmental disorders. A new report in the American Journal ...

Dummies not to blame for common speech disorder in kids

October 9, 2018
New University of Sydney research shows bottles, dummies, and thumb sucking in the early years of life do not cause or worsen phonological impairment, the most common type of speech disorder in children.

'Genes are not destiny' when it comes to weight

October 9, 2018
A healthy home environment could help offset children's genetic susceptibilities to obesity, according to new research led by UCL.

Old drug could have new use helping sick premature babies

October 8, 2018
Researchers from The University of Western Australia, King Edward Memorial Hospital and Curtin University are investigating whether an old drug could be used to help very sick premature babies.

Insufficient sleep associated with risky behavior in teens

October 1, 2018
Adolescents require 8-10 hours of sleep at night for optimal health, according to sleep experts, yet more than 70 percent of high school students get less than that. Previous studies have demonstrated that insufficient sleep ...

0 comments

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.