soda aisle, a new study has found that perhaps the scariest hazard of all is your shopping cart. The classic basket on wheels is responsible for an average of 24,000 childhood emergency-room injuries a year — that’s 66 a day — with the rate of cart-related concussions on the upswing, according to the findings published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics in December but announced with fanfare on Tuesday.
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"Some people may think: My goodness, it's just a shopping cart,” head researcher Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, tells Yahoo Shine. "So we need to let parents know these injuries can be life-threatening but that they are preventable."
Smith's study is just the latest in a series over many years that has helped bring the issue of shopping-cart safety to the forefront. This time, he looked at U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission data from 1990 through 2011 on an estimated 530,000 children under 15 who were injured by shopping carts and treated in a U.S. emergency room. He found that the majority of injuries stemmed from a child falling out of a shopping cart (70.4 percent), followed by running into or falling over the cart, a cart tipping over, and a leg or arm getting caught in the cart. The most common injuries were to the head (78.1 percent). In addition, the rate of concussions in children under 5, in particular, increased sharply by more than 200 percent during the study period.
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Smith explains that this latest round of research was meant to be a follow-up after voluntary shopping-cart safety standards, including warning labels, were put in place in 2004 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and ASTM International, which writes the standards. But at the time, he notes, ASTM did not agree with his opinion (and that of the American Academy of Pediatrics) that a standard test for cart stability was necessary. As a result, Smith says, the United States is the only country without such a testing standard for its shopping carts, which has led to the continuation of dangerous tip-overs — something that's easily preventable with an enforced design change, he notes.
“Some carts...you can do a handstand on the handle and it won't tip over,” explains Smith, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. "Others, with as little as 10 pounds of pressure, will flip over backward onto a child. This is not a difficult engineering performance standard and not a difficult thing to fix."
As for the increase in concussions — from 3,483 in 1990 to 12,333 in 2011 — Smith admits he's not certain how to account for it. But he suggests that the big uptick could be attributed to a variety of reasons, including simply more falls, more visits to the ER by more aware parents, and a higher rate of diagnoses from doctors.
The shopping cart's design, incidentally, was created by Sylvan Goldman, owner of the now-defunct Humpty-Dumpty grocery chain, who invented it in the 1930s. Inventor Orla Watson updated the structure in 1946, giving the carts a folding wall to allow “nesting,” and, in 1947, designers added the now-ubiquitous child seat. And that's when the problems really began.
But design is just part of the problem, Smith notes, as parental misuse is also a source of many injuries. That was something made strikingly evident earlier this month by Home Depot in-store camera footage, which showed a quick-thinking employee catching an infant in midair after the baby had tumbled, clearly unrestrained, out of its infant seat. Still, Smith stresses, "We're not interested in blaming. What we're interested in is determining where injuries occur and what can be done to prevent them." And so, while seeking improved parental education and voluntary standards, Smith is urging mandated changes as well.
In the meantime, the Center for Injury Research and Policy urges parents to take the following precautions while shopping with children:
• Whenever possible, put your child (especially babies in an infant carrier) anywhere but a shopping cart — like a stroller, baby carrier, or in-store childcare facility, if available.
• Always use the shopping cart safety straps, and make sure your little one is snugly secured. If parts of the cart restraint system are missing or broken, choose another cart.• Use a cart that has a low-to-the-ground child seat — even fun versions shaped like cars or animals — if possible.
• Make sure your child remains seated in a shopping cart.• Never leave a child unattended in a shopping cart.