COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In spite of years of warnings by child health experts that babywalkers present a serious danger to toddlers, the devices are still on store shelves and many American parents continue to let their children use them.
A new study by researchers at Childrens Hospital of Columbus and Ohio State University showed that one in three parents allowed the continued use of babywalkers, even after their child was injured in one.
But study leaders arent blaming parents for these injuries. They say that bad parenting isnt the problem.
Adults have been misled into believing that with adult supervision, their child will be safe in a babywalker, explained Gary Smith, director of emergency medicine at Childrens and assistant professor of pediatrics at Ohio State.
The implication is that if parents are careful, their children will be okay. Instead, its just a set-up for injury.
One solution would be to adopt a new set of standards for the manufacture of babywalkers like that now in use in Canada. Those guidelines include requiring that babywalkers be too wide to pass through doorways.
An infant in a babywalker can move as fast as three feet per second and they simply are too young to control this increased mobility, explained Smith.
Smith said that at that speed, a child could be injured in the time it takes an adult to reach for something from the refrigerator. Smiths study, published in the journal Pediatrics this month, showed that 69 percent of the babywalker-related injuries occurred in spite of adult supervision.
The study focused on emergency department records of injuries during a three-year period -- March 1993 though February 1996. During that time, 271 kids were brought to Childrens Hospital for babywalker-related injuries. A babywalker-related injury was treated at Childrens emergency department an average of every four days.
In 96 percent of the cases, the injuries were caused by falls down stairs. An analysis of the injury records showed that children who fell more than 10 steps were three times more likely to suffer a skull fracture than were kids who fell fewer than 10 steps.
More than half (62 percent) of the children injured were boys. The average age was just over nine months. Twenty-six of the children in the study suffered skull fractures, while the remaining kids suffered concussions, lacerations and other fractures.
Researchers surveyed the parents of the injured children either by phone or mail within two months after their emergency department visit. Those interviews revealed the following points:
· Sixty-nine percent of the time, an adult was in the same room
as the child at the time of the injury.
· After the injury, 45 percent of the families kept using the walkers while 42 percent either destroyed the walkers or threw them away.
· Forty-six of the injured children used the walker again even though theyd been injured by it.
Smith reported that parents explained the continued use by saying that the infants liked using the walkers, and that they believed the walkers helped the children learn to walk. So far, however, no research has shown that walkers improve a childs learning to walk.
In 1992, a petition was filed with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission calling for a ban on babywalkers. The CPSC rejected that proposal a year later and instead asked for more studies into the safety of the devices.
It is time we made a decision to do something besides warning labels and parental education, which are strategies that have not worked, Smith said. We need to implement new standards that will make babywalkers too large to fit through doorways.