Surely You Must Be Choking!

Hi Readers — Thanks to all of you who sent in this htdbfbtfbr
AP story
today, about the American Academy of Pediatrics wanting companies to start labeling hotdogs, carrots, grapes and other foods as choking hazards.

Which, admittedly, they are. And sidewalks are tripping hazards, and puddles are slipping hazards, and trees are bumping-int0 hazards. The minute you decide to get up off the floor and sit on a chair (falling hazard) or couch (fire hazard) or go out the door (big, wide world-hazard) you are taking your life into your hands.

It is very sad — really — that in 2006, 61 children died choking on food. I can’t imagine their parents’ anguish. But to put that number in perspective, in 2005, 1,335 children died as car passengers.

Which is to say: Every day we engage in activities that hold some danger, however slight, and that is as it should be. Otherwise we’d be paralyzed with fear.

Should we try to be safe? Yes. Can we ever be totally safe? No.

I believe in car seats and safety belts. And I guess I believe in cutting up food until children are really good at chewing it themselves. I cut up some grapes in my day. What is unnerving about the idea of slapping a warning label on everyday foods is that we are now defining something as “unsafe” that is actually very safe —  just not absolutely, perfectly safe. The story ran on MSNBC under the subhead, “Pediatricians Seek to Protect Kids from High-Risk Items.” To me a “high risk” item is a leaky beaker of plutonium.

So what we’re talking about is a new way of looking at safety — and risk. When something that is safe 99.99% of the time is defined as “high risk,” the world looks like a death trap. It also changes the way we are expected to parent, demanding, as it does, hypervigilance, hyper-involvement in everything our kids do/eat/touch/try, and hyper-criticism if e’er we flag.

As if those of us who give our kids hotdogs weren’t already in society’s crosshairs! — Lenore

When kid bites dog, that's news! PHOTO: jetalone.


86 Responses to Surely You Must Be Choking!

  1. Juliet February 23, 2010 at 5:28 am #

    It might be more worthwhile ensuring that parents of young children or expectant parents are given a first aid course that covers how to deal with children (and adults) choking. This might be a little more empowering!

  2. Jean February 23, 2010 at 5:35 am #

    Exactly, Juliet! I plan on getting my CPR/1st Aid re-certification (I have it, but I’m rusty) before my baby gets here. Knowing what to do in an emergency is better than trying to prevent all emergencies from every happening.

    To me, it’s a little like knowing how to get out the woods safely versus never going hiking.

  3. RobC February 23, 2010 at 5:43 am #

    What’s next? Legislation making it compulsory for parents to pre-chew their children’s food for them?

    I’m very sorry this woman lost her son. But she, and others like her, have to realise that we cannot, and should not, legislate the world into being 100% safe.

  4. Jan S February 23, 2010 at 5:56 am #

    I’m tired of grieving people going on crusades to micromanage everyone else’s lives because of their own tragic loss and feelings of guilt. Of course I feel for them, but trying to legislate 100% safety isn’t possible.

    Personally, I’m more concerned about nitrates in the hotdogs which do cause higher rates of childhood leukemia. Also, the First Lady is on a much needed crusade to reduce obesity in children, which will surely cause great suffering and early deaths in far greater numbers than choking on hotdogs.

  5. HSmom February 23, 2010 at 6:03 am #

    I saw this on one of the morning news programs today and the correspondent said to the host something like, “in addition to labeling, manufacturers are being asked to look into reconfiguring the hot dog.” They looked at each other and said, “How do you reconfigure a hot dog?”

    I guess you could make it round and flat like a burger, but then it would just be bologna.

  6. Jan S February 23, 2010 at 6:05 am #

    Maybe all kids should be on a pureed diet until age 18, just to be on the safe side.

  7. dmd February 23, 2010 at 6:28 am #

    Somehow (and I have no idea how) we need to move away from our litigiousness. That is the bottom line why warnings such as these will gain traction. In this country, we have a problem with accepting the fact that there are accidents. In theory, every accident is preventable. But in practice, it’s always going to be the ONE THING you don’t account for that will get you. Life is fraught with risk. We can’t warning that out of our life. Will a warning on a pack of hotdogs save a life? Maybe. If every single person reads it. But it all goes back to common sense. If they can’t go figure out that young kids need food cut up or they may choke, then they’ll either not read it and it will happen anyways, or it will be something else they didn’t stop to use common sense on. I feel for the parent. But we have to start using our own sense and not have a warning on every single thing.

  8. Jennifer February 23, 2010 at 6:33 am #

    Choking is my absolute worst nightmare, but I too am tired of the safety police micromanaging everyone’s lives. I believe it is every parent’s responsibility to be aware of potential safety risks, and monitor their children closely. Hot dogs are near the top on every list of potential choking hazards that I have ever seen. Somehow I know that certain foods are dangerous for my son *without* warning labels stating the obvious. At 19 months old he has never eaten a hotdog. When he finally does, it will be cut into small pieces. Too many parents want somebody else to do the thinking for them.

  9. Lori February 23, 2010 at 6:48 am #

    My problem with this issue has always been that I question the statistics on which foods are dangerous. My kids ate a lot of hot dogs and grapes – way more than I did or do – so the fact that children are choking on them more often could just mean that children are eating them more frequently. I would laugh every time I saw a list of “choking hazards” because it looked like a menu of mine and everyone else’s young kids’ diets. OF COURSE that’s what they are choking on – it’s what they eat!

    So, the warning would need to be – children can choke on food! So what do we do? Starve them?

  10. Krista February 23, 2010 at 7:09 am #

    My favourite is the opening line of the MSNB story : “his anguished mother never dreamed that the popular kids’ food could be so dangerous.”

    Really? It had never occurred to the parent of a toddler that something that goes in the mouth can get stuck?? My first baby isn’t due for another 10 weeks, but I’m pretty sure that I can grasp the idea that my kid can choke on things he puts in his mouth – even if it’s food. It’s parenting 101, not rocket science.

  11. Diane February 23, 2010 at 7:16 am #

    The thought going through my head after reading the article was “where was the parent/caregiver while the child was eating? Was she/he in another room during meal time?” I always sat with my daughter while she was eating when she was learning to chew so that I’d be close by in case she did choke. I still do sit with her though now more for company and conversation than any fear of her choking on food. The simple solution is cut up food into bite size pieces until toddlers have enough molars and don’t feed them raw carrots, hard candy or gum until they’re around 4 or 5 and understand bite portions. Warning labels on food is completely unnecessary. Maybe a parenting class learning about common sense would be more useful.

  12. Melissa February 23, 2010 at 7:24 am #

    I totally agree with the commenter who mentioned CPR classes. I had my first child while I was attending nursing school, so I had taken First Aid and CPR. It only takes one afternoon or evening and is a very worthwhile skill for anyone to possess. Knowing what to do in a real emergency provides real peace of mind.

    Rather than legislating these issues, why not encourage parents to take control, think sensibly and be (reasonably) prepared should something go wrong?

    And for heaven’s sake, just cut up the stupid hotdog, okay.

  13. Brian February 23, 2010 at 7:43 am #

    When my daughter was 6 years old, she was sucking on a piece of hard candy and it got stuck in her throat. She ran to her mom and pointed at her neck. She began to turn blue. Mom picked her up and gave her the Heimlich maneuver. It didn’t work. She did it again a couple of times and still it didn’t work. Not knowing what to do, but knowing that she only had a very short window before very bad things happened, Mom picked her up and ran out of the house into the street. Her intention was to continue the Heimlich and other maneuvers while screaming for help. (we live a block or so from the fire department). The action of picking her up and running with her finally did the trick. She candy was safely dislodged and spit out.

    Even now, as I write this story, I realize how close we were to losing my little girl. I get the shakes just thinking about it.

    But did we stop letting her eat things that she might choke on? Of course not, because you can choke on anything. Did we stop letting her eat hard candy – nope, she’s just a lot more careful now.

    I empathize with those who have lost loved ones to accidents. I wish we could make accidents go away. We can’t. Pretending that we can takes away the need to prepare for the things for which we should be prepared. And that’s in no one’s best interest.

  14. Alex February 23, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    This risk has been known for a long time. I have a very clear memory of helping my mother cut hot dogs into quarters for my little brother to eat. I was 6 or 7, and she told me little kids should always have round foods cut up for them. This was so I would know what to do when I was babysitting in a few years.

    Doesn’t it make more sense to cut up foods for toddlers at home than to make all foods “safe” for toddlers before they are sold? It’s like that law the courts struck down saying the whole internet had to be suitable for small kids– that unreasonably infringes on the rights of adults.

  15. Teacher Tom February 23, 2010 at 8:16 am #

    I’m a teacher in a cooperative preschool, which means that parents work with me in the classroom. A couple years ago a mother, who was also a physician, was serving snack to some 2-year-olds. Her own son looked like he was choking on something — probably apple. He was gasping for air and clearly struggling. As the teacher I’m first aid/CPR certified, but his mom was right there, she was a doctor, and she was as calm as could be.

    After a loooong minute, I asked, “Should we do something?”

    She answered, “He’s breathing, he’s making noise. He just needs to either cough it out or swallow it.” After what seemed like 10 minutes, but was probably less than 2, he managed to dislodge it on his own. Through it all, his mom was as cool as a cucumber. I was totally impressed. I can perform the Heimlich, but now I know when it’s really needed.

    The reason some kids choke on hot dogs, carrots and grapes is because THAT’S WHAT WE FEED THEM. If we fed them foie gras and cavier, that’s what some kids would choke on.

  16. Nicola February 23, 2010 at 8:17 am #

    You know, Diane, you hit it on the head.

    It amazed me that when my daughter was in the NICU, we got classes on CPR, classes on first aid, and child care – she being my first child, I thought it was standard and really great info.

    Blow me away when my son came out normal and they patted us on the back, gave us a bucket on how to care for after pregnancy sutures, and shipped us out the door.

    All I could think was, “they don’t give everyone those classes?!?!?!” I know that some people may feel there is no need, but for someone like myself who grew up virtually parentless – it was a great tool and something to make me feel a little more comfortable with this tiny new person. That said… there is for sure an element of common sense that was missing from this woman. I feel bad for her, I think we all do, but hot dogs need to be cut up!

    My kids are 8 and 9 now and I still don’t let them run around with suckers in their mouths… just because one of them is just uncoordinated enough to make my worst nightmare come true. LOL

  17. andreas February 23, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    In the book, “Freakonomics” read the chapter titled, “How to be a perfect parent”—-it’s a great discussion, like this one, and examines how parents assess and address risk and how it doesn’t exactly follow logic. It begins by asking the questions of whether you would send your child to play at a home where there was a swimming pool, or whether you would send your child to play at a home where there was a gun…..? Statistics ensue…….

  18. Catherine Scott February 23, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    I am reminded of the wisdom passed down to me by a senior friend, who noted that ‘It’s a dangerous world and none of us are going to get out of it alive’.


  19. DirtyHooker February 23, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    I think we’d be better of labeling every product ever made with: Warning: THIS COULD KILL YOU.

    Then we’d all be safe.

  20. Dean Whinery February 23, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    CAUTION! Living can be hazardous to your health.

    And, Please, don’t give your child anything to drink. I just choked on coffee from reading this.

  21. Antimodernmom February 23, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Couldn’t agree more. And beautifully stated, as always.

    I lost all hope when the jury returned in favor of the moron who burned herself with hot coffee. If the coffee had been lukewarm, she’d probably have sued for mental anguish or what have you. People want others to pay for their foolishness and/or bad luck.

    I feel your posters’ frustration when they say, “For heaven’s sake, parents, THINK. Anything a child puts in his mouth is a choking hazard.” But, people don’t. And to be honest, many simply can’t. Fact is, they’re just plain dumb.

    So perhaps, so long as hot dogs aren’t outlawed or banned in school or similar because some child somewhere will indeed choke on one, then a label might not be that awful an idea. Perhaps a warning will give the children of ignorant or uneducated or just plain dumb people a fighting chance?

    What makes me think it’s not such a terrible idea is that today at Walmart I watched a woman pour neon fuscia “fruit-punch beverage” (0% fruit juice, 95% sugar, 5% chemical additives) into a cup and hand it to a child too young to be speaking yet. Probably 14 months, tops. Perhaps a warning label on this kid’s hot dog will improve her odds? At least she was loved, and happy. That much was clear.

    Wonderful blog. Thanks.

  22. owen59 February 23, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    As a health professional who has spent many years on NGOs talking to our Commonwealth Govt here in Oz about rural health and health services, children choking never hit the radar. However there is an adage that if you establish a role in society, the people in that role will begin to apply a stronger and stronger filter from that role onto everything they see in society. Mostly it is because the people in those roles eg paediatricians, come to see themselves as guardians of the society from that viewpoint. There is now 30 years since the WHO tried to get nations to talk to communities about their health, health risks, etc, under a broad concept called Primary Health Care. Medical Specialist groups in particular could give two hoots about community – after all they know what is best for everyone. (Ooops showing my sarcastic side)

  23. owen59 February 23, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    More on risk, your readers might like to know about the Australian Highschools Rodeo club.
    In a recent tv documentary here in Australia, one of the boys was, while gasping for air, extolling the virtues of the adrenaline rush, while a rodeo coach was calmly describing how a boy ‘popped’ his shoulder “but he’ll be right, he’ll be back on (the bull) tomorrow.
    I don’t see how we can teach youth to do the things they are doing in Vancouver on the ski slopes or have the confidence to write great poetry, if we cottonball them as children. We should be more focussed on supporting people who have had accidents or are grieving from loss, that telling them they were bad friends or families for letting children or youth take on a little risk. PS On the downside, my 17year old son did crash my car recently. He had learned to try to drive slow in wet conditions but hadn’t the experience of the various aspects of rain, country roads and midnight. Thankfully all unharmed and an valuable lesson (in driving and economics) learned.

  24. Tana February 23, 2010 at 10:24 am #

    i think all cars should come with “crashing hazard” labels, just to be on the safe side. kidding, of course.

  25. Lisa February 23, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    And then there’s this:

  26. RobC February 23, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    “I lost all hope when the jury returned in favor of the moron who burned herself with hot coffee. “

    And I lose all hope when I see morons citing this particular case, years after the fact, when they obviously don’t have an idea what the case was actually about.

    Educate yourself.

  27. Jen C February 23, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    These kinds of parents need to quit blaming the world for their stupidity and lack of common sense.

  28. DJ February 23, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    I’m just waiting for knives to come engraved with the words “Warning: Don’t poke this in your eye.”

  29. JC February 23, 2010 at 11:00 am #

    So, it’s not moronic to put a hot cup of coffee between your legs whilst someone else is driving, and try to pull the top off. Cause, you know, the little styrofoam cup isn’t warm or anything when you hold it. C’mon. It’s not that I don’t feel bad for the lady. I do. But to sue a fast food chain is really about $$$. More fodder for the American “victim” mentality. It’s always someone else’s fault.
    Ah, Darwin would weep.

  30. RobC February 23, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    It’s not the brightest of moves, no, but you shouldn’t be expected to wear THIRD DEGREE BURNS because of it.

  31. Michele February 23, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    Oy Vei. Maybe this recall will be recalled. Did the cords from the blinds recall ever get recalled?

    Its a lawsuit world we live in. Until we have tort reform, the punches will keep on coming.

    From (sorry Lenore, NYC is tops here)

    The American Tort Reform Foundation has released its annual Judicial Hellholes® report, naming some of the nation’s “most unfair civil court jurisdictions,” including first-time “Hellholes” New York City and the appellate courts of New Mexico, which join perennials South Florida, West Virginia, Cook County, Illinois, and Atlantic County, New Jersey.

  32. RobC February 23, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    “Did the cords from the blinds recall ever get recalled?”

    I don’t recall.

  33. bmj2k February 23, 2010 at 11:13 am #

    I assume some lawyers are behind this.

  34. Lori February 23, 2010 at 11:21 am #

    This is ridiculous. I never did anything special with my kids’ food other than cut it up and KEEP AN EYE ON THEM. And yes, my kids all ate popcorn starting at about 2. Each of my kids choked on something (NOT popcorn, surprisingly) at least twice. I just flipped them over and used the small child heimlich version on them and they were just fine. Maybe in addition to lamaze, new parents should consider taking a basic first aid and CPR course.

  35. HeatherJ February 23, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    Come on people! Haven’t you realized yet that we are idiots and we need the wise and all powerful government/lawyers/media to protect us? GAG!

    I swear we lose more common sense every day. I’m also with Jan S. about people’s grief turning into the next big crusade. A few months ago there was a big poster at one of my local malls extolling the dangers of car windows and how easily children can get hurt/killed/dismembered by them rolling up on them. Really? It’s THAT deadly? I’d like to see the stats on that!

  36. Bob February 23, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    My mom keeps me and my brethern up to date on what to fear. She worries about crime, safety, and mostly fat. My brother John was taking the train home once and she was voicing her fears and worries about his trip. Admittedly, the station is in a sketchy part of town. When John got home she exclaimed how worried she was about his trip. John, ever the quick one, replied ” I know, mom you were worried I would walk to the top of the hill where the McDonalds is and get a Big Mac with like 500 GRAMS OF FAT!!!!! To her credit, she got a great laugh out of it. Folks, lets keep our fears proportioned properly.

  37. Michele February 23, 2010 at 11:52 am #



    While at a Marriott 2 weekends ago, twas glancing through their in room information book and it actually stated to not let any strangers into your room. Wow. Baffled by the need to put that in there. Who is this aimed at? A 5 year old?

    Maybe the book was meant for the kiddie Marriott where children are unmonitored at all times?!

    Good grief, Charlie Brown.

  38. montessorimatters February 23, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Heck, I’d be more worried about what’s INSIDE the hot dogs (pig snouts, adrenal glands, MSG, high glucose corn syrup) than whether my kid could choke on one.

  39. Maniacal Mommy February 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    Babies and toddlers are like little suicidal maniacs. That is why we are parents. To keep them from jumping off the couch, falling down the stairs, and hopefully from choking on something. My 9 month old is hell bent on eating paper. I have fished more things out of that boy’s mouth than I care to say. I can’t keep my older kids from forgetting to keep such things as crayon boxes away from him now that he is cruising. Yes, I have swiped a piece of crayon box out of his mouth. This doesn’t mean I feed him large pieces of hot dog, grapes, or anything else I don’t think his little gums can manage to break down. He eats what we eat as a family, but I take the time to make sure he CAN eat it. Baby food grinder or a knife, folks. We don’t need warning labels, do we? Seriously?

  40. Gina February 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    While my heart aches for parents who’s children have choked on hot dogs, I’d rather see our government encouraging the food industry to find a solution to the nutritional problem of the hot dog. They’re not attacking the apple or carrots – they’re just grown that way and we can’t “redesign” them.

    If we’re going to “redesign” the hot dog, maybe it looks more like chicken satay or beef fajita strips.

    What if we just got rid of the hot dog?

  41. Ben February 23, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    To tell you the truth, I’m too sad about hotdogs being on the list. They are a health hazard — part of the obesity wave that is sweeping the US. I’m much less impressed with the fact the list contains vegetables and fruits like grapes and carrots. It’s hard enough to get kids to eat them, and now they’re suddenly a high-risk item?

    Sorry pediatricians. I’m not buying it. Which research is your labelling plan based on?

  42. Ben February 23, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    Jan S: “Personally, I’m more concerned about nitrates in the hotdogs which do cause higher rates of childhood leukemia.”

    Spinach a leukemia hazard? That is a new one to me. What are you basing that on?

  43. Ben February 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    […]“Some say other risky foods, including hard candies, popcorn, peanuts and marshmallows, shouldn’t be given to young children at all.” [AP; Free-Range Kids] […] Right! Not allowing kids to eat candy — their primary food source. Whoever got this idea needs their head checked.

    Gina said: “They’re not attacking the apple or carrots – they’re just grown that way and we can’t “redesign” them.”

    I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. There is a Thai farmer who grows pears in the shape of a baby and there’s also a market for square watermelons, so you can certainly redesign fruits.

  44. Rachel February 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    Rather like the oven-ready foods with warnings saying “Product may be hot after heating” – I should hope so!

  45. Rachel February 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    @Ben – perhaps it’s a reverse psychology campaign – now children can eat healthy fruits and veg and feel like rebels for doing so

  46. Ben February 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    From MSNBC: “Of the 141 choking deaths in kids in 2006, 61 were food-related.”

    Well duh! I would hope that if you count kids 14 and under that the ones over 3 aren’t ingesting non-foods on a regular basis.

    You eat food, so the chance you choke on it is a lot higher than, say, choking on your favorite gerbil. You can’t stop them eating and you can’t stop a baby’s instinct to taste things.

    Teach kids to chew. It worked for me.

  47. Frau_Mahlzahn February 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    Well, if the world is a death trap, we are doing really well to protect our kids from… lifing… (irony).

    Oh, and since babies _can_ (theoretically) drown in puddles, I think we should just ban rain…

    So long,

  48. Kim February 23, 2010 at 8:08 pm #

    I would like to say that a child can choke even when someone is watching them. I wish people would stop assuming the parents weren’t present or were “dumb” or “stupid” when accidents happen. They are going through enough grief and guilt. How would you feel if it was your child? And yes, it could be your child, even if you take all the right precautions.

    On the labeling thing, I agree it’s completely absurd.

  49. JenC February 23, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    What bothers me about this legislation most is it may cause more heartache for parents than it prevents. If a food comes with a ‘choking hazard’ warning label and you give it to your child anyway, and they choke, will you now be considered negligent?

    How much more anguish will a parent suffer if they can be accused of child abuse for giving their kids hot dogs, grapes, cherries, carrots, raisins or any other ‘dangerous’ food?

  50. Dave February 23, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    This is the most rediculous thing I have ever heard of. What makes it worse is these idiots are serious. If we label everything as dangerous that isn’t we cry wolf and then don’t heed real warnings. God deliver us from expeets.

  51. Robin February 23, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    My husband is an engineer in the consumer product industry. The amount of time and money spent to add warnings to products is huge. It’s not just the cost of the lawsuits, but the aftermath. Every time a company has to defend itself it then must add it to the growing list of warnings. This is costing us as a society billions of needless dollars every year. Someone has to pay the salary of the in-house attorney, engineers, and graphic designers who makes sure the warning labels are there and its us every time we buy a product.

    As much as I feel for the mother, I have 2 kids and can’t possibly imagine the grief she’s feeling, this needs to stop. We can’t afford to prevent every death.

  52. Laura February 23, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    “So what we’re talking about is a new way of looking at safety — and risk. When something that is safe 99.99% of the time is defined as “high risk,” the world looks like a death trap…”

    We are also downgrading the REAL “high risk” behaviors, because we’re cluttering the field.

    For example, My 6 year old child is eating a whole grape and his grandmother freaks out (it’s happened) because it’s a “choking hazard”. The grandmother shrieks, snatches away all the grapes, whips out a knife and begins slashing away, all the while lecturing in a loud voice about how “hazardous” those grapes are and how “dangerous” it is for him to eat them. Remember, he’s 6.

    Later that day, she repeats the behavior because he’s running down the hall – she shrieks and rants about the “dangers” of running in the house. And again, when he’s at the playground and wants to climb the “wrong way” up the slide. It’s “dangerous” and he could get “seriously hurt”! And she follows him around all day, telling him that nearly everything he does is “dangerous”, “hazardous”, and he could get “seriously hurt”.

    And each time, the child suffered NO ill effects from any of these behaviors. Rather, he enjoyed the grapes, had a blast running through the house, and made it to the top of the slide, safe and sound.

    How, then, is that child going to react when he’s about to stick his hand into the fireplace later that night, and she starts shrieking AGAIN about the real dangers of sticking one’s hand into the fire? He’s likely to ignore her, because it’s the same stupid thing she’s been ranting about ALL DAY LONG, and he never suffered any ill effects from any of those other behaviors that were “dangerous”, so why should THIS “danger” be any different from those?

    This whole issue is a massive “Wolf Cry”. All these labels are the boy crying wolf, and when a REAL danger comes along, we will be so sensitized, we will not recognize it.

  53. BMS February 23, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    I wonder if the fact that accidents are no longer allowed, apparently, adds to the inability of people to grieve in a healthy way. My aunt lost a child to a brain tumor at age 12 in the 70’s. He was a favorite cousin of mine, a good friend. We all grieved – the whole family grieved. Sometimes we still miss him. But my aunt didn’t climb into a hole and die, or try to find someone to sue because something caused his tumor, or try to sue the doctors for not catching it early enough. She accepted – sometimes, you just get a raw deal. That’s life. Another friend of ours had a son who was born with severe brain damage due to birth trauma who later died at age two. They probably could have blamed the doctors, blamed the hospital, gone on a suing rampage trying to find someone at fault. But it would not have brought their son back, and it would have destroyed them even more. They grieved, they still remember, but they somehow got on with their lives. They didn’t have some expectation that life owed them perfection and someone was obviously to blame if they didn’t get it. To me, that is a much healthier way to be.

  54. Molly Santa Croce February 23, 2010 at 10:31 pm #

    Thank you once again, Lenore, for a sane interpretation of the “facts” that are thrown at us.

  55. Donna February 23, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    Here, here Rob C!!!!!!! As a lawyer, I am so sick of the blame the lawyers for everything mentality in this country. And throwing that McDonald’s case up when the woman suffered 3rd degree burns, needing skin grafts, due to McDonald’s trying to save a buck (they were using cheap coffee that tasted better heated at a higher level). And the huge verdict had the desired effect, McDonald’s turned down the coffee pot and nobody else was disfigured by its coffee. Yes, this one particular lady got more than she personally deserved but a reasonable verdict isn’t going to even cause a blimp in McDonald’s billion dollar empire. However, a couple 6 million dollar ones, with intense media coverage, will. We’ve actually seen this happen with Ford who knowingly sold cars that blew up on impact because the people in charge at Ford actually did a cost/benefit analysis and determined that it would cost them more to fix the problem than to pay out damages for the deaths that would happen as a result. The problem with tort reform is that sometimes majorly hitting profits is the only way to get companies to do what’s right (although it would be nice if we could take the money from the individual who gets a windfall and use it for something else – pay down the deficit maybe).

    But back on topic. This crusade – much like most of them – has nothing to do with a lawyer and everything to do a grief-stricken parent that feels that she needs to do something in the aftermath of her child dying or her child will have died for no reason. I’m sure that if the law passes it will be named after her child and that child will go on to live forever.

    The problem is with people believing that everything happens for a reason and that there are no accidents anymore. Sometimes death is just senseless. Tragic accidents do happen.

  56. Lucy February 23, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    Jan S: “Personally, I’m more concerned about nitrates in the hotdogs which do cause higher rates of childhood leukemia.”

    Worried about nitrates? Check this out:

    Stay away from the salad! And btw, hotdogs don’t contain nitrates.

  57. jim February 23, 2010 at 11:41 pm #

    A fun little food fight (sorry, couldn’t help myself) between the nutritionally correct and the litigation-obsessed. Fast food, junk food – certainly it should be kept within reason, but a part of childhood. Far as litigation goes – two stories (neither dealing with McD’s) – the first, perhaps annecdotal, is the vinyl Superman cape with the label “This cape does not enable to to fly” so when Little Johnny went off the roof of the garage the parents wouldn’t be able to sue. Second – about 12 years ago I was working a summer community garden with a group of neighborhood boys for a local non-profit. Good bunch of kids – not real used to being outdoors, and a bit baffled by the notion of delayed gratificiation. But the boy that had the most potential in terms of intellect and humor was the most impossible to control brat I’ve ever worked with. 11 or 12 years old and absolutely, proudly no impulse control or self-discipline. The reason? At that age, he had already figured out why he didn’t have to study, learn, obey, or treat anyone with respect. He explained in all seriousness that he didn’t see any point in putting up with my life-preperation bs, because as soon as he turned 18 he was either going to win the lottery or win a multi-million dollar lawsuit. He was dead serious.

  58. pentamom February 24, 2010 at 12:06 am #

    “I wonder if the fact that accidents are no longer allowed, apparently, adds to the inability of people to grieve in a healthy way.”

    I have wondered that, too. If society sends a consistent message that everyone has a “right” to a certain degree of health and lifespan which will occur unless someone else is at “fault,” that puts up an additional barrier to the acceptance that tragic things happen.

    On a different point, it’s purely anecdotal but I know of a family where the Dad is a pediatric specialist and has done enough rotations in ERs while training to have lots of rules about what his kids could and couldn’t have while they were young. I’m not saying the rules were bad, just that they were really careful BUT….one child came very close to choking on a “permitted, safe” food. You just can’t prevent everything.

  59. Alex February 24, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    Ummmm… while I am with you on things getting out of hand on stuff like this.

    Someone I know died over the weekend… choking on a hot dog.

    it was eerie that it was in the paper the next morning.

    so perhaps a bit of awareness of chewing properly is in order? I don’t think labeling food as BAD is the answer, but some simple common sense reminders might not be a terrible ideas either.

  60. Melissa K February 24, 2010 at 12:52 am #

    This is just ridiculous, I wish parents in Western countries would quit trying to baby proof their world. Especially considering that over 10,000 children a day die from malnutrition and preventable diseases. I am sure that those children would greatly appreciate those hot dogs and grapes that are so dangerous…

  61. Johneal February 24, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    I saw one of the Doctors making this recommendation on the news and he said food should be cut up until age 14. SERIOUSLY – 14, I just about choked myself. Of course the parents should cut it up because the fork and knife are way too dangerous – why don’t we just chew it and regurgitate it for them as well.

  62. Uly February 24, 2010 at 2:59 am #

    Well, of course, this advice is good advice… for parents of young children. It’s right up there with “Don’t let them run around the house with their mouth stuffed full of food”, you know?

    Everybody else, however, can be trusted to eat without choking unless something extreme happens.

    Incidentally, a lot of parents of babies are worried about gagging. Gagging isn’t choking. Gagging is what the kid does so they DO NOT choke, and it’s part of the process of learning to move food around in the mouth properly. So long as the child is coughing and making noise, they’re still getting air into their throat and are fine. If you’re actually worried (and they’re not choking), best thing to do is to turn the kid over your knee and let gravity do the work. But usually kids manage to get the food out or down on their own.

  63. E. Simms February 24, 2010 at 3:20 am #

    Do these pediatricians really think that parents who would give a whole hotdog to a nine month old, or allow a three year old to run around in the yard while eating sour balls, are going to read a warning label?

  64. Rochie February 24, 2010 at 3:50 am #

    When I read this article about choking and food labels I knew it would be perfect for Free Rangers!
    The conclusion that I have come to is that the American Academy of Pediatrics must think parents are morons.
    I admit I have seen some parents who would certainly fit the bill but most of us out there are not morons. I marvel at the advances in science and medicine, modern technology and the fact that we can shoot human beings into space. But now we are being told we need food companies labeling certain items that may be a choking hazard? Please.
    Isn’t anything you put in your mouth, or in this case your child’s mouth, a choking hazard? It seems we live in a society where someone or something is always to blame when accidents do happen. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is one of my favorite sayings but no matter how hard you try, some things just can’t be prevented. I think we just need to chill out a little.

    Almost two years ago a friend from my hometown lost her
    baby (she was almost two) to a choking accident. The baby was eating a very small piece of cut up apple (without the peel) and she choked and died a short time later. The Mothers grief was painful to say the least. I have cried as I’ve read her struggles and feelings on her blog. Did she start a campaign to ban apples or have them labeled as dangerous? No. She turned something that was very tragic into something positive by starting a website and support group to help other mothers and families who have lost a child regardless of the circumstances. I admire her for her courage and honesty.
    My point to this story is that sometimes no matter how careful and cautious you are as a parent, accidents do happen and they are just that: accidents.

  65. Donna February 24, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    “I have wondered that, too. If society sends a consistent message that everyone has a “right” to a certain degree of health and lifespan which will occur unless someone else is at “fault,” that puts up an additional barrier to the acceptance that tragic things happen.”

    I agree. I’ve also seen how it plays out very negatively in the criminal justice system. It used to be that a car accident resulting in death was that – a horrible accident. Now it’s vehicular homicide with people demanding prison time for every minor driving infraction that happens to result in serious consequences. I’m not saying that a drunk driver who gets into a car and kills someone shouldn’t go to prison. That person made a conscious decision to drive impaired knowing that it is not a good idea. But I do have a real hard time with sending the person who misjudged the speed of an oncoming car before making a turn to prison (and thus leading to the early release of an actual criminal). There is no acceptance of the fact that thousands of imperfect humans simultaneously maneuvering large metal (or whatever cars are made of these days) boxes at high rates of speed is occasionally going to result in some of these imperfect, but not malicious, humans making a tragic mistake. Instead, someone has to pay.

  66. Jan S February 24, 2010 at 11:19 am #

  67. Jan S February 24, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    Q. What’s wrong with hot dogs?

    A. Nitrite additives in hotdogs form carcinogens. Three different studies have come out in the past year, finding that the consumption of hot dogs can be a risk factor for childhood cancer.
    Peters et al. studied the relationship between the intake of certain foods and the risk of leukemia in children from birth to age 10 in Los Angeles County between 1980 and 1987. The study found that children eating more than 12 hot dogs per month have nine times the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia. A strong risk for childhood leukemia also existed for those children whose fathers’ intake of hot dogs was 12 or more per month.
    Researchers Sarusua and Savitz studied childhood cancer cases in Denver and found that children born to mothers who consumed hot dogs one or more times per week during pregnancy has approximately double the risk of developing brain tumors. Children who ate hot dogs one or more times per week were also at higher risk of brain cancer.
    Bunin et al, also found that maternal consumption of hot dogs during pregnancy was associated with an excess risk of childhood brain tumors.

  68. Tobias February 24, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    The study found that children eating more than 12 hot dogs per month have nine times the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia.

    That comes out to 3 hot dogs per WEEK. I was a pretty picky kid in a family where hot dogs cooked over the flame of our gas stove was a standard thing to do when you were over about 7, but even I didn’t have that many. My parents would have never allowed it, they’re not all that healthy. Even assuming I went camping for a week, when I got back I’d get non-camp food.

  69. konrad February 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    accidents/mistakes happen. That’s how humans learn. What if we legislated safety into everything. What if we really did feed kids pureed food until 18? How would they know how to take care of THEIR kids? It’ll only be a generation or two until everyone is retarded and common sense even more non-existent than it is today. My dad let me climb trees 90 feet high when I was a kid, knowing there was a chance I could fall out of it but he understood it’s part of being a kid. I guess you could say he loved me enough to not rob me of a proper childhood. When we succeed in making life perfectly safe and sanitary, I think we’ll find we’ve taken the fun out of life! Or you could say the LIFE out of life.

  70. RobC February 24, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    “It’ll only be a generation or two until everyone is retarded and common sense even more non-existent than it is today.”

    Have you seen the movie Wall-E? Those fat, lazy lumps that humanity ends up becoming, being taken everywhere on hoverchairs and having robots do everything for them? I bet they were perfectly safe all the time.

  71. Jan S February 24, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    I think it’s ridiculous how people on this site pooh pooh healthy eating.

    Hot Dogs are garbage food, actually. They are basically made from the ‘leftovers’ from the steer or swine that you would never in your life eat if you saw it whole. Then they add nitrates and other additives after they grind everything up.

  72. Heather D February 25, 2010 at 1:24 am #

    “Her own son looked like he was choking on something — probably apple. He was gasping for air and clearly struggling…
    She answered, “He’s breathing, he’s making noise. He just needs to either cough it out or swallow it.” After what seemed like 10 minutes, but was probably less than 2, he managed to dislodge it on his own. Through it all, his mom was as cool as a cucumber.”

    Yup, this. And as Uly said — there is a big difference between GAGGING and CHOKING, which is often overlooked. Gagging is the protective mechanism to prevent choking, but often people say “choking” when it’s actually “gagging”. Gagging can look terrible, the person gagging might even end up throwing up because of it… but it’s not actually dangerous.

    Young babies have a gag reflex much further forward in their mouths, which moves back as they move through toddlerhood. So there’s logic to the idea that babies should have the opportunity to practice biting, chewing, and swallowing while that extra protection is there, rather than forcing mush down their gullets and not letting them learn to actually eat until after the gag reflex has receded.

    Cutting everything up into tiny pieces is therefore potentially counterproductive — they don’t learn how to chew larger pieces in a safe way until after their natural protective mechanism is gone.

    Round things like grapes and hot dogs should still be sliced… anything the size of the windpipe, I stilla gree with that. 🙂 But it doesn’t have to be into “tiny pieces” — just into THIN pieces. Long sticks are perfect. That applies to all foods… young babies just 6 months old will do great with a long thin stick of food to gnaw and chew on!

    I heartily recommend “baby-led” solid feeding to everyone with babies… Gill Rapley’s book about it is the best resource out there. I learned so much about the over-fear of choking! It’s a whole other area of overprotective parenting — purees and mushed foods are 100% unnecessary for babies, they can eat real food from the beginning. Parents have been led to believe that real food is “dangerous” and they have to “learn” to eat purees and mushy cereals first… But it’s just not true!

  73. jim February 25, 2010 at 1:38 am #

    @ jan s. – au contraire, to a point. I grew up in a meat-packing family (if you want a weird first job, try working in your dad’s slaughterhouse while in grade school.) Hot dogs, like many other processed meat foods, have a wide range of contents. However, they are generally made in USDA or state Dept. of Ag plants with government inspectors and fairly stringent regulations regarding content and labeling. “Stuff you would turn your nose up at in an ethnic grocery store, if you are a prissy fraidy-cat yuppie from the suburbs” maybe, which is why you should READ THE LABEL before buying the 69-cent a package store brand. Unless you have been downsized and are desperate to get some protien in your kids, in which case, welcome to being poor. If you still have your job, Hebrew National or any other all-beef kosher dog, for about four times the price, is certainly not garbage food. One steak and rack-of-lamb conneseur’s “garbage” is Fergus Henderson’s widely acclaimed tasting menu – tripes, tounge, kidney, cheeks… all trendy, delicious, and nutritious, now so popular that hot-dog makers may be reduced to using round steak to make product. Within living memory, oxtails and skirt steak (fajitas) were “garbage cuts” that butchers gave them away to the poor; nowdays the poor can’t afford them. “Garbage” is a term that is at best suggestive, at worst slanderous, but certainly subjective.

  74. Age Demands February 26, 2010 at 4:20 am #

    We have a strict rule in our house for our 2-year old – “No Choking Allowed.” He will actually say this after he coughs from drinking water or the like. I’ve seen people in stores look at me funny when I say it, but so far the rule has worked! 🙂

  75. Jack February 26, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    As long as they label every McDonalds’s Fry as a POTENTIAL CHOKING HAZARD, I’m in! 🙂

  76. B. Durbin February 27, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    “But it doesn’t have to be into “tiny pieces” — just into THIN pieces. Long sticks are perfect.”

    Yes. My toddler loves his mini carrots, quartered lengthwise, and will BITE off the appropriate-sized pieces. I was giving him thin slices of bagels and he was doing the same thing— except that once again, he’s reverted to playing with them instead of eating them, so that’s off the table for a while.

    My bad parenting is that I won’t let him feed himself things like yogurt, but right now I’m fundamentally incapable of dealing with the resulting mess. Maybe when the upcoming baby is about two months old and I’m finally getting some sleep again.

  77. harmil2 February 28, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    Ya, this just hit this a.m. Let’s see…well over 10 million kids under 3 yrs in the USA and 61 choked to death last year. While that is very sad those are darn good odds and suggests to me that there are a lot of very resilient children and a lot of darn good parenting going on out there. Anyone know how many children die each year due to errors by family doctors and pediatricians? I googled and couldn’t find a stat on that…hmmm? I have seen stats that somewhere between 40,000 and 240,000 people die of medical errors each year and I assume a bunch of the victims are children. My hunch is a child is much much safer eating a grape than going to the doctor.

  78. J. March 1, 2010 at 8:49 am #

    So there I am, sipping my coffee and reading a piece in the Outlook section of the Washington Post this morning. I thought, Lenore would love to see this, I must send it to her! Then I read on and crack up laughing. I think, this sounds like Lenore, I should send it to her. I continue reading. Wait. It IS Lenore!

    Great piece. I’m still laughing!

    Warning labels for hot dogs: Saving our children from a wurst-case scenario?

    By Lenore Skenazy
    Sunday, February 28, 2010

  79. Moe March 3, 2010 at 12:41 am #

    Interesting take on redesigning the hot dog from Fast Company:

  80. Jenny March 5, 2010 at 4:11 am #

    Don’t most people know that hot dogs are a choking hazard? I mean, obviously–they go in your mouth!

    As far as the warning labels–there ARE warning labels on Oscar Mayer hotdogs and Kraft marshmallows. Check the label.

  81. car review September 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    My favourite is the opening line of the MSNB story : “his anguished mother never dreamed that the popular kids’ food could be so dangerous.”

  82. tomw July 7, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    my 22 month old grandson stopped breathing entirely and turned blue in a matter of seconds while eatting a wendy’s unpeeled apple slice. so much for a healthy alternative from french fries. mcdonald’s peels their slices, wendy’s does not. this is not a joke when it happens to your loved one. luckily i was able to pull the entire peel from his throat while he was literally seconds from death in the middle of the restaurant on an average day in america. btw: my next door neighbor works at the local children’s hospital emergency room where a local toddler died from eating an un-peeled grape.


  1. Cut grapes into pea-sized portions? - February 23, 2010

    […] It seems the American Academy of Pediatrics wants just about every non-pureed food you can think of — carrots, apples, hot dogs — to carry a warning label about the risk of choking to children. “Some say other risky foods, including hard candies, popcorn, peanuts and marshmallows, shouldn’t be given to young children at all.” [AP; Free-Range Kids] […]

  2. Food Police's Next Target - Hot Dogs | KEYTLaw - February 23, 2010

    […] “Surely You Must Be Choking” in which the author […]

  3. CPSIA – Redesign the Dog! : - February 24, 2010

    […] friends Walter Olson (”Cut grapes into pea-sized portions?“) and Lenora Skenazy (”Surely You Must Be Choking!“). Many newspapers repeated the AAP’s call for warning labels on items like nuts, […]

  4. Top Posts — - February 24, 2010

    […] Surely You Must Be Choking! Hi Readers — Thanks to all of you who sent in this AP story today, about the American Academy of Pediatrics […] […]