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Infant walkers still cause serious injuries

Oct. 10, 2018—Children's doctors have warned for a long time that infant walkers are too risky. Now, a study offers new data on the serious injuries they cause to little ones.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has called for a ban on infant walkers in the U.S. They've already been banned in Canada. The AAP has said that the products can actually delay motor development. Worse, the walkers raise the risk for injuries, such as falls.

The authors of this study looked at infant-walker-related injuries from 1990 to 2014.

Among their findings:

  • More than 230,000 kids under 15 months old were treated in emergency departments for walker-related injuries over the 25-year study period.
  • Falling down stairs was the leading cause of injury. Other injuries happened when youngsters fell out of their walker. Still other kids were hurt when they used the walker to reach an unsafe environment or object (like a hot oven door, a sharp tool or a poison).
  • Most kids injured their head or neck. Many had concussions or skull fractures.

But there was some good news too. Between 1990 and 2003, the number of injuries decreased by more than 84 percent. That's a big change for the better. The main reason for the smaller number of injuries? Fewer kids fell down stairs while in their walkers. Many of those falls may have been prevented by a safety standard revision that went into effect in 1997. It required that new walkers be larger than most doorways or have a brake to prevent falls.

Compared to the four-year period before 2010, the average annual number of injuries decreased again by almost 23 percent in the four years after 2010. That's when an even stricter rule was introduced to make walkers safer. Other things may have led to fewer injuries over the years too. For instance, many parents may have decided not to use infant walkers after hearing about their risks. And many unsafe walkers have been recalled.

Another change that has occurred since the 1990s: Many parents began to buy stationary activity centers for their kids instead of walkers. These products look like walkers but don't have wheels that allow them to move.

Better, but still risky

The finding that injuries linked to infant walkers are declining is, of course, good news. But the products still lead to injuries in young children and should not be used, said the study's lead author. For instance, in 2014, about 2,000 kids were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to walkers.

One concern with walkers is that they let babies move too quickly. In a walker, a child can move up to 4 feet per second, according to the research. That's often too quick for parents to react in time to prevent an accident.

The study appears in the AAP journal Pediatrics.

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