the top 10 choking hazards for kids

I usually scoff at fearmongering parenting articles, but this article on dangerous foods for kids in this week’s New York Times is a must-read. If you’re half-assed about cutting the grapes or the hot dogs up before feeding them to your preschooler, you should read it. If you think you can feed them whatever as long as you’re “right there,” and then they’ll be safe, then you should read it. 

You may be surprised, as I was, to read that popcorn is considered by many pediatricians and other experts to be the absolute worst of the no-nos. (We have a big bag in our pantry right now.) That’s why these experts are pushing for the FDA to start labeling foods that are choking hazards as such. Think that’s overkill? I might have also, but Dr. Gary Smith, the lead author of the pediatricians’ policy statement, makes quite a point: 

“You have a SuperBall that by government regulation has to carry warnings telling people it’s a risk to young children and you can’t market it to them, yet you can have the same identical shape and size gumball and there are no restrictions or requirements.” 

You gotta admit, that’s idiotic, since the gumball is DESIGNED for your kid to put it in his mouth. I mean, that’s its reason for existence. And if the popcorn had a “choking hazard” label on it, I probably wouldn’t have it in my house. Or at least save it for when my youngest was already gone to bed.

Read the article- but here are the top ten foods considered most dangerous to children UNDER FIVE (not just babies):

  • hot dogs
  • peanuts
  • raw carrots
  • chicken with bones
  • hard candy
  • meat
  • popcorn
  • fish with bones
  • sunflower seeds
  • apples

I have routinely offered my two-year-old many of those things. Some of them, I never even considered hazardous. 

Dr. Smith says these things shouldn’t be given to kids under five at all:

  • raw carrots
  • marshmallows
  • peanuts
  • popcorn
  • hard candy
  • gumballs
And those quarter-size slices you make in your toddler’s hot dog? That’s MORE dangerous than doing nothing. Slice them down the middle lengthwise first. Cut grapes in quarters, not just halves. Give your kids flat lollipops instead of ball-shaped ones.

And if someone does choke, do the Heimlich, and call 911 immediately. 

May it never happen to our kids.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

indywriter May 27, 2010 at 7:16 pm

I realize this won't necessarily work for younger kids, but I had to have a talk with my 4 year old about sitting still when she eats and snacks and on what to do if she gets choked.

She would frequently try to lay on the floor while snacking or be jumping and playing with food in her mouth. We make her sit still, but she didn't really get why. Then one day she had a piece of candy in her mouth and started to choke. I was helping her sister with something and didn't see when it happened, because when she started to choke she got scared… and got up and left the room.

I heard her leave and went to find her. I reached her just as the candy came loose. I never thought I would have to tell her not to hide or run away if she was choking. We seem to have come to an understanding on the whole sitting while we eat issue though.


The Marketing Mama May 30, 2010 at 5:11 am

Let's see, in the last 24 hours, I've given my 2.5 year old hot dogs, popcorn and raw carrots.


I do, however, cut the hot dog lengthwise and then width so they are in small pieces.



Anonymous May 31, 2010 at 1:44 am

This is my first time reading your blog:) I like it!
My son choked last year on ham. He was 4 at the time and he nearly died. I am not being dramatic. As my husband was doing the heimlich very aggressively, I stood stunned trying to figure out the right time to call 911. Turns out the time to call is the moment they begin to choke. It was truly one of the scariest moments of my life. My husband (6ft 2 and 215 lbs) said he made the decision in his mind to do the heimlich as forcefully as he could because he didn't want to regret it the next day. When the food finally came out, our little guy screamed, "I can't breathe" over and over for at least 10 minutes. It was really frightening. And while I learned my lesson about cutting the meat myself (another family member did it that night), I didn't realize the hazards in some of the food we enjoy daily. So, thank you so much for sharing.


Courtney June 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I don't give my daughter those foods, because she has bigger issues and I don't want to risk my luck with food! In the last year, she has choked on a tiny rock, a band aid the doctor put on her finger, and a leaf she picked up and ate in the park! She is 1 1/2, and puts EVERYTHING into her mouth. Everything. You'd think I would watch her more closely, but I watch her like a hawk, and she still gets some things past me. I have a few heart attacks per day! No fun.


Anonymous September 6, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I have a friend who's son just died from choking on popcorn, he choked pretty bad then sent to hospital, they thought they got it all, but there was still some left in his throat for about a week, then his airways started to close in around this small piece, and then he passed out with no vitals signs. he later died in hospital. this is an awful tragedy that could have been prevented.


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