In the current climate of the obesity epidemic, the FDA has changed the nutritional labels we’ve become all-too-familiar with. The emphasis will now be on calorie count and appropriate serving size. So much for my pretending that the pint of ice cream i just downed had 350 calories. What? That was per serving? Don’t tell me that I was supposed to share it with three other people! From now on, we’ll be able to enjoy our 350 fat-filled calories in the micro portion it was meant to be.
I understand the importance of the health of our nation, but I fear that they are missing a big boat. Childhood aspiration (or choking) on food is a major public health issue. Anywhere from 10,000-20,000 kids visit emergency rooms each year in the US alone, after having suffered a food-choking accident. Hundreds die each year, either in the hospital or before they make it in the door. Most of these kids are under the age of 5, and most of their parents will have had no idea that their child had choked on a high-risk food.
In stark contrast to the well established legislation that all toys and games intended for young children must have safety labeling, similar legislation for food products does not exist. The “Food Choking Prevention Act” was introduced and reintroduced multiple times to Congress. The 2002 rendition directed the FDA to establish an Office of Choking Hazard Evaluation, in efforts to oversee identification and labeling of potentially hazardous food products. This act was ultimately dismissed by Congress in 2002, 2003, and again in 2005. The most recent attempt was devised with a focus on promoting public education about prevention of food object aspiration. Unfortunately, the introduction of this bill was also dismissed by Congress.
Until we have support by our legislators, we will continue to do our best as pediatric physicians to educate the public about high-risk foods for young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the following foods not be given to children under 5 years old:
Hard Candies or Gum
Raw Vegetables in chunks
Nuts and Seeds
Chunks of Meat or Cheese
Chunks of peanut butter
None of these foods have safety labels, but we’ll keep on working until they do.