Nutrition Column – Preventing Your Child from Choking

We all know that kids will put just about anything and everything in their mouths. But are you aware that choking is the leading cause of accidental death among children under one year of age? And, it’s not only infants who are at risk; toddlers and preschoolers are too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 2,800 people die each year from choking, most of whom are kids, age four or younger. The CDC also reports that food items are the most common cause of nonfatal choking incidents.

Young children are particularly prone to choking because they have smaller airways than adults. Pieces of food or small objects can lodge in their airway blocking off their oxygen supply or can compress their airway, causing the child to choke.

Prevention is the key. If you are a parent or the caregiver of a small child, take the following steps to help ensure mealtimes are safe.

  • Offer foods that are appropriate for your child’s age. Choose soft, well-cooked foods for infants who have only a few or no teeth and be sure to cut the food into very small pieces. Examples of appropriate finger foods for older infants and toddlers include small pieces of well-ripened bananas, strips of cheese, and o-shaped cereal. For children younger than age four, small, hard foods, such as nuts, seeds, popcorn, snack chips, pretzels, raw carrots, snack puffs, and raisins should be avoided. Additionally, slippery foods, like whole grapes, hard candies, lollipops, cough drops, taffy, and chunks of hot dogs are not recommended. If hot dogs are served, they should be sliced lengthwise and then diagonally in strips. Children at this age also tend to have difficulty chewing large pieces of meat and poultry because of the texture. Always slice meat thinly and then cut it into small pieces.
  • Always watch young children when they are eating. A child who has his/her airway blocked by a piece of food is not able to cry for help. Therefore, it’s important to keep your child in your sight at all times when he/she is eating.
  • Make sure your child always sits down to eat or drink. Children should sit upright at a table or in a high chair to eat. Trying to eat while lying down increases the risk for choking. Eating while walking or running is also dangerous.
  • Teach your child how to eat correctly. Children need to be taught to take small bites, chew their food thoroughly and eat slowly. In addition to telling your child these things, make sure you are a good a role model by practicing what you preach.

If despite all of your preventative steps, your child does start to choke on something, it’s important to be prepared. Parents are encouraged to learn how to perform the finger sweep method, the Heimlich Maneuver and other first aid techniques. Classes are usually available through the local hospital or American Red Cross Chapter office.