Kid’s Safety: Worst Foods For Choking

Medically reviewed in March 2020

A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics highlights the most dangerous foods for choking -- and the ones that lead to the most ER visits.

According to the study, over 12,000 children under the ages of 14 are seen in the ER every year for choking on food.  Children under the age of 4.5 are most at risk, with those under twelve months accounting for 40% of the choking incidents.

Foods most likely to lead to a choking event were hard candies, followed by other candy, meat and bone.

Foods most likely to cause fatal choking episodes: hot dogs, seeds and nuts, candy, and raw fruits and vegetables.  With their round, compressible shape, hot dogs are just the same size and shape as a child’s airway, and don’t dissolve quickly.

Tips for Feeding Toddlers

5 ways to prevent choking:

  • In children under the age of 5, avoid hard candies or gum and cut raw fruit and veggies into VERY small pieces.
  • Avoid feeding hot dogs to babies; once they are toddlers, cut them into thin, noodle-like strips.
  • Don’t allow your children to run, walk, or play while eating food of any kind – including snacks. It could cause them to choke.
  • Children, including infants, should eat sitting up.
  • Don’t forget “non-food” choking hazards, too! Toys have gotten much safer, but I continue to be amazed by the toddlers coming into my ER having put plastic beads, crayon tips and pencil erasers into the strangest places.

Childproof Your Home: More Choking Hazards

What to do if your child is choking:

  • If your child has signs of food or some other object stuck in his or her throat but is still able to speak or has a strong cough, observe carefully -- the child’s cough is more effective than back blows or other maneuvers. To be on the safe side, call 911 in case you need instant help.  Even a partial blockage could become complete.
  • If your child cannot breathe at all, or has only a very weak cough, have someone call 911 immediately. In babies less than twelve months old, perform back slaps and chest thrusts. In children older than 1, do the Heimlich maneuver (also called abdominal thrusts), depending on their size.  (Performing the Heimlich maneuver on a younger or small-for-their-age child could crack their ribs.) I recommend that EVERY parent take a course either through the Red Cross or their local hospital on child and infant CPR and rescue care. I have seen it save lives. And there is nothing in this world better than that.

To learn more, visit redcross.org and click on “Find a Class.”

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