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Safe Kids Marks 20 Years of Safety

This column originally appeared in the May 19, 2008 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

With its recent celebration of Safe Kids Week 2008, the international Safe Kids Worldwide marked 20 years of changing attitudes, behaviors, laws and the environment to prevent accidental injury to children.

In the United States, the organization has contributed to a 45-percent reduction in accidental injury deaths in children 14 years and younger, saving an estimated 38,000 children’s lives.  Still, much work remains to be done.

A newly released Safe Kids study, titled “Report to the Nation: Trends in Unintentional Childhood Injury Mortality and Parental Views on Child Safety,” examines accidental injury in the United States and its impact on children by age, gender and race. It reviews the changes in accidental childhood injury death rates in areas such as motor vehicle passenger injuries, drownings, suffocation (including strangulation and choking) and more. The report also compares current data to data from 1987 and 1997.

In a statement that accompanies the report, Safe Kids President and CEO Mitch Stoller and Safe Kids Founder Dr. Martin R. Eichelberger say parents should take a more active role in injury prevention.

“What we found (in the study) is that parents are not as concerned about unintentional injury and the threat to their children as they should be. While most parents consistently practice certain safety behaviors, like making sure young children are buckled in an appropriate car seat or booster seat, they are not consistently practicing others, like requiring children to always wear a helmet when biking. These are simple and low-cost efforts that can save a child’s life.”

In its 20 years, Safe Kids has distributed more than 2.5 million bike helmets and 250,000 smoke alarms and checked more than 740,000 car seats. These efforts have made a difference.

“We work hard to prevent childhood injuries, through things like car seat fittings and events to encourage use of bike helmets, smoke detectors and other safety equipment,” says Cathy Hogan, a nurse at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and coordinator of the Safe Kids St. Louis Coalition ( “Each year in Missouri, more than 425,000 children suffer unintentional injuries that require emergency room treatment or hospitalization. We need parents’ help to reduce those numbers and keep children safe.”

Nationally, accidental injury claimed the lives of 5,162 children aged 14 years and under in 2005.  In 2006, there were more than 6.2 million emergency department visits for accidental injuries for children 14 years and under in the United States.

The new Safe Kids report sheds light on many findings, including:

  • Only 58 percent of parents with children 14 and under report major concern about their child being involved in a serious accident or getting seriously injured– a seven percentage-point drop since 1987.
  • There is little change from 1987 to 2007 in the amount done by parents to ensure their child’s safety – due to reasons varying from parents (especially fathers) actually feeling the chance of their child being seriously injured is slim; to reporting that taking all the necessary steps is an inconvenience; to 20 percent of low income families (household income levels under $25,000) saying many safety devices such as fire extinguishers and bike helmets cost too much.
  • Yet when parents do take action, they are not always taking the right steps every time their child is at risk of injury. For example, 31 percent of households with children 14 and under do not consistently ensure their children ride in the back seat of a car all the time; 24 percent do not consistently supervise their children around water all the time and 18 percent do not always ensure their children (under 10 years of age) are with an adult when crossing the street.

The injuries examined in the report are serious, many resulting in death or permanent disability. Many children survive, but live with significant physical and emotional health consequences for a lifetime. The stress on the children, their families and the health care system cannot be underestimated. In 2000 in the U.S., injuries to children 14 and under cost society approximately $58 billion in medical bills, lost wages of the children’s caregivers, and more.

The four leading causes of death from accidental injuries to children 14 and under are suffocation (19 percent), motor vehicle occupant injuries (16 percent), drowning (16 percent) and pedestrian incidents (11 percent).

Parents can have a major impact on their children’s safety by following a simple set of safety measures recommended by Safe Kids Worldwide, including:

  1. Properly secure your children under age 13 in a back seat every time they ride in a car.
  2. Keep your children in the right type of car or booster seat until adult lap and shoulder belts fit them correctly.
  3. Make sure your children wear a helmet and other protective gear every time they bike, skate, skateboard or ride a scooter.
  4. Teach your children to cross streets at corners and look left, right and left again before crossing. Make sure children younger than 10 years always cross the street with an adult.
  5. Always keep your eyes on your children when they are playing in or near water.
  6. Always make sure your children wear life jackets when riding on boats or playing in or near open bodies of water.
  7. Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home and outside every sleeping area. Change the batteries once a year, and test them monthly.
  8. Do not place blankets, pillows or other soft items in a baby’s crib. Keep small items such as toy parts, coins, buttons and beads away from children under age three.
  9. Keep poisonous items, such as medicines and cleaners, locked away and out of reach of children.
  10. Do not let your children play on stairs, furniture, balconies, roofs, or in driveways, streets or parking lots and keep them away from junk cars and discarded appliances for fear of entrapment..

Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.


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