Children Under 4 Shouldn't Eat Popcorn, Hot Dogs, Gum & More

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Children Under 4 Shouldn't Eat Popcorn, Hot Dogs, Gum & More

WALDORF - 2/4/2008

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By Staff Writer Heather Bartlett

 You might think nothing of handing a 3-year-old some popcorn to watch with their latest favorite Disney movie, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) popcorn is a choking hazard to a child of that age. 

 The AAP lists the following as choking hazards to children younger than 4 years old:

    Hot dogs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunks of meat or cheese
  • Whole grapes
  • Hard, gooey, or sticky candy
  • Popcorn
  • Chunks of peanut butter
  • Raw vegetables
  • Fruit chunks, such as apple chunks
  • Chewing gum

 Other common items that infants and small children might come into contact with such as coins and pen caps also present a choking hazard.  You can find a full list of dangerous items and potential choking hazards on the AAP website.

Though the numbers for choking don't rate it as a top killer in the United States, the deaths are usually preventable.  Even just nearly choking and a trip to the emergency room can be traumatic for both the parent and the child.  A little extra care with snacking and feeding can greatly reduce the risks.  Even seemingly innocent items such as baby carrots are the perfect size and firmness to block a child's airways.

You can check with your child's pre-school or other caretaker to assure that they are aware of the AAP list of chocking hazards.  It also helps to volunteer when your child has a party or event at school, so you can oversee the foods brought in from outside sources.

It only takes a moment for a child to begin choking and just minutes for them to become brain-damaged or die.

 Quick Facts from Centers for Disease Control
 -In 2000, 160 children ages 14 years or younger died from an obstruction of the respiratory tract due to inhaled or ingested foreign bodies.  Of these, 41% were caused by food items and 59% by nonfood objects (CDC, unpublished data). 

For every choking-related death, there are more than 100 visits to U.S. emergency departments.  In 2001, an estimated 17,537 children 14 years or younger were treated in U.S. emergency departments for choking episodes.  

Sixty percent of nonfatal choking episodes treated in emergency departments were associated with food items; 31% were associated with nonfood objects including coins; and in 9% of the episodes the substance was unknown or unrecorded.

Candy was associated with 19% of all choking-related emergency department visits by children ages 14 years or younger; 65% were related to hard candy; and 12.5% were related to other specified types of candy (chocolate candy, gummy bears, gum, etc.).  The type of candy was not specified in the remaining 22.5% of the cases.  Candy was associated with 5% of all choking-related visits for infants less than one year of age; 25% of visits for children ages 1 to 4 years; and 28% of visits for children ages 5 to 14 years.

Coins were involved in 18% of all choking-related emergency department visits for children ages 1 to 4 years. 

 -    In 2001, 10.5% of children treated in the emergency department for choking episodes were admitted to the hospital or transferred to a facility with a higher level of care. 
For information and classes on how to react in an emergency situation, contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross.

Heather Bartlett is’s Waldorf and Arts Correspondent. 
In her other life, she’s an
artist , co-creator of the political group blog Charles County Café.
To contact her about this article, Waldorf issues or Arts events comment below or email

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