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A Common Baby Toy Keeps Causing Serious Injuries, Experts Warn

They want the toy banned.

CARLY CASSELLA
19 SEP 2018

No matter how much bad press it gets, the baby walker is still very much alive and kicking.

Even though this common childhood toy provides absolutely no benefit and can put children in harm's way, many parents in the United States are still using them. Now, a new study has revealed some data on just how risky this practice truly is, and we should all pay attention.

 

Despite product warning labels, educational campaigns, and expert recommendations to ban the toy's production and sale, research reveals that baby walkers are still sending children to the emergency department for preventable injuries.

baby walkerA typical baby walker (FGorgun/iStock)

"The good news is that the number of infant walker-related injuries has continued to decrease substantially during the past 25 years," says senior author Gary Smith, an expert in the epidemiology of consumer product-related injuries at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"However, it is important for families to understand that these products are still causing serious injuries to young children and should not be used."

The very purpose of this popular toy is exactly why it is causing so many problems. The increased mobility that baby walkers allow can expose children to dangerous and unsupervised situations, especially when stairs, sharp objects, or hazardous appliances are easily within reach.

Collecting data from US emergency departments between 1990 and 2014, Smith and his team are the first to investigate the effect that the federal government's 2010 mandatory safety standards for baby walkers have had.

Across 24 years, the study reveals an estimated 230,676 children under 15 months of age were treated in emergency departments for injuries from the toy.

 

Over 90 percent of these injuries were to the head and neck, with the most common being soft-tissue injuries, concussions, and closed-head injuries.

Overall, most of these accidents involved a fall down the stairs - a trend that has been known for some time and has led to several important safety standards.

In 1997, a voluntary safety standard was introduced that required infant walkers to be wider than a doorway or to have a stopping mechanism for when a wheel drops over an edge.

Then, in 2010, a mandatory safety standard was implemented, which included harsher regulations for manufacturers (including international ones) and introduced a parking brake test.

Both of these policies seem to have worked. During the entire study period, injuries dropped from 20,650 in 1990 to 2,001 in 2014.

This decrease is primarily because of a reduction in injuries from falling down stairs. From 1990 to 2003, for instance, walker-related injuries that involved stairs decreased by 91 percent.

The 2010 policy was also effective. During the four years after the mandatory safety standards were implemented, walker-related injuries decreased by a further 22 percent than the four years before the federal measure.

 

Along with improved regulation, the researchers also suggest a few other factors may have played a role in this downward trend. These include a growing preference for stationary activity centres and the presence of fewer older models of infant walkers in homes.

While improved parental education may account for some of the trend, it is not a very efficient way of tackling the problem.

Previous studies have found that 59 percent of families whose child was treated for a walker-related injury already knew the potential dangers before the incident. Even more baffling, 32 percent of parents said they continued to use the device even after the injury.

But there are more than just physical risks to consider. These toys may also be detrimental to a child's cognitive development. When baby walkers were first introduced to the market, they were sold as tools to promote walking and motor skills.

Previous studies have suggested they do the exact opposite, briefly delaying mental and motor development.

With little else going for them, the new study simply adds to a growing list of reasons why the idea of baby walkers should be fully abandoned.

"Infant walkers give quick mobility (up to 4 feet [1.2 metres] per second) to young children before they are developmentally ready. Despite the decrease in injuries over the years, there are still too many serious injuries occurring related to this product," explains Smith.

"Because of this, we support the American Academy of Pediatrics' call for a ban on the manufacture, sale, and importation of infant walkers in the US."

This study has been published in Pediatrics.