American pediatricians are renewing their decades-old call to ban infant walkers, saying they don’t offer any benefits in babies’ development, but can give them mobility to places where they’re likely to get hurt — like staircases, swimming pools and kitchens with hot appliances. The doctors renewed their concern in light of a new study that shows more than 2,000 infants a year are treated at hospital emergency rooms for injuries received while zooming around on the wheeled saucer-shaped walkers.
Walker-related injuries subsided after federally mandated standards in 2010 required brakes and other safety features, but the pediatricians said too many children are still getting injured — some with potentially debilitating brain injuries — to justify keeping them on the market. One of the co-authors of the study is a pediatrician whose patients have included babies who landed head-first on concrete after tumbling down a flight of stairs while strapped in an infant walker.
The study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics reviewed the cases of an estimated 230,675 children under 15 months who were treated at U.S. emergency rooms for walker-related injuries from 1990 to 2014.
More than 90 percent of them had head and neck injuries, and slightly more than 74 percent were injured when they tumbled down the steps in their walkers. About 4.5 percent of the babies required hospitalization, nearly 38 percent of them for skull fractures.
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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission joined pediatricians in the call for the ban in 1992 and in 2010 strengthened safety requirements in both the manufacture and testing of infant walkers.
Injuries are subsiding with growing awareness about the dangers the walkers pose, according the study’s authors, who said that from 1990 to 2003, walker-related injuries and injuries from falling down stairs decreased by 84.5 percent and 91 percent respectively.
And, during the four-year period after implementation of federally mandated safety standards, walker-related injuries decreased by nearly 23 percent.
“This decrease may, in part, be attributable to the standard as well as other factors, such as decreased infant walker use and fewer older infant walkers in homes,” the authors wrote.
The study, the first to examine whether the tougher baby walker standards had decreased emergency room visits, concluded they probably had, along with other factors, like a decrease in use and fewer older models in American homes.
Infant walkers remain an important and preventable source of injury among young children, which supports the American Academy of Pediatrics’ call for a ban on their manufacture and sale in the United States, the authors wrote.
Not only are the walkers dangerous, they “have no benefit whatsoever and should not be sold in the United States,” Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, a pediatrician who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, told NPR.
Dr. Gary Smith, the study’s senior author and the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, agreed “there’s absolutely no reason these products should still be on the market.”
Babies can move four feet in a second when they’re strapped in baby walkers, and that’s faster than their parents, Smith said.
“Parents bought the myth that if they watched their children carefully they wouldn’t get into trouble,” Smith told NPR “But that was a myth.”
Canada banned baby walkers in 2004 after their danger was underpinned in a scientific analysis of data from Health Canada’s Canadian Hospital Injury Reporting and Prevention Program.
The United States should follow Canada’s lead, agree Smith and Hoffman, who practices at the Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland.
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