Foods that choke children

Mar 10, 2010 at 3:02 p.m. ET

The all-American hot dog, a healthy bunch of grapes, cheesy popcorn and crunchy nuts may be kid-friendly favorites, but these seemingly benign foods put your kids at risk for choking. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), choking is a leading cause of death of children, especially those three-years-old and younger. Here are the top foods that choke children, tips to prevent choking and information on a new policy statement from the AAP calling for warning labels on high risk foods.

Hot Dogs

Common foods that cause children to choke

How often have you taken coins and small toys away from your toddler to keep her from sticking them in her mouth? Common sense warns that small nonedible items can get lodged in her throat and cause her to choke. But do you then give her grapes, chunks of cheese or hard candy? These edible, seemingly innocent, items can also cause choking.

The AAP recommends that you avoid giving the following foods to young children:

  • Grapes and raisins
  • Nuts
  • Hot dogs
  • Chunks of meat or cheese
  • Hard, gooey or sticky candy and chewing gum
  • Gobs of peanut butter, especially chunky peanut butter
  • Popcorn
  • Raw vegetables

Children can get choked on virtually any food, but these are the foods that are considered high risk because they can easily get stuck in a child's throat and plug her airway.

How to prevent your child from choking

Learning the Heimlich maneuver is always a good move, but a better approach to choking is to avoid it altogether.

Here are the AAP's recommendations to prevent choking:

  • Cut hot dogs lengthwise and cut grapes into quarters – this changes the dangerous round shape that can block a child's throat.
  • Avoid giving toddlers high risk foods like hard candy, nuts, seeds and raw carrots.
  • Never let children run, play or lie down while eating.

Consider every food a potential choking hazard and either change its shape or consistency or avoid giving it to your child until she is older to minimize the choking risk. Additionally, never leave your child unattended while eating, even if she is eating foods she's eaten many times beforehand. You never know when she may chew inadequately or swallow wrong and have a piece of food get stuck in her throat.

Experts recommend warning labels on high risk foods

At least one child dies from choking every five days in the US, making choking a leading cause of death for children three-years-old and younger. This has convinced the AAP that in addition to parents being vigilant about the foods they give their children, food manufacturer's need to take some responsibility in reducing the risk of children choking on high risk foods.

The AAP issued a new policy statement, published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, calling for warning labels on foods that are common choking hazards.

Because the size and shape of certain foods makes them high risk for choking, the AAP recommends:

  • Warning labels on foods that pose a high choking risk.
  • A recall of food products that pose a significant choking hazard.
  • The establishment of a nationwide food-related choking-incident surveillance and reporting system.
  • Food manufacturers designing new foods and redesign existing foods to minimize choking risk.
  • CPR and choking first aid should be taught to parents, teachers and child care providers.

What to do if your child chokes

Lead policy statement author Dr Gary Smith, who directs the Center for Injury and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, says if a child is choking but can still breathe, parents should let the child try to cough the food out on her own. However, if the child isn't making any noise or is turning blue, Dr Smith encourages parents to call 911 and perform the Heimlich maneuver on kids over age one. For babies younger than 12 months, the pediatric expert recommends doing back blows and chest thrusts to get the airway clear.

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