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Unhappy Toy Story: Foot-Powered Scooters Drive ER Visits

Vroom! Vroom! Ow!!!!

When it comes to toys that cause serious injuries, those little scooters kids push along with one foot are unique.

A look at trends in injuries that sent kids to the emergency room over more than 20 years shows an Everest-like mountain of problems with ride-on toys, including scooters, that reached its zenith in 2001 — an estimated 109,000 injuries.

"I've never seen a spike like this for any other product," says Gary Smith, a pediatric emergency physician and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Smith and his colleagues just published an analysis of toy-related injuries drawn from Consumer Product Safety Commission data spanning more than two decades.

They found that the rate of toy-related injuries increased by 40 percent, from about 19 per 10,000 kids in 1990 to 26 per 10,000 kids in 2011. (The chart stops at 2009 because of coding changes that affected the categories, though not the overall numbers.)

He says the analysis is "clearly an underestimate" of the problem because it doesn't include figures for urgent care centers, doctors' offices and the kids who got hurt but didn't seek care. The findings appear in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

Foot-powered scooters accounted for 40 percent of the toy-related hospital admissions over 22 years, Smith says. Most of the injuries are related to falls. What kinds of problems did the kids have? Fractures and brain injuries are the types that are most likely to lead to hospitalization, he says.

Smith says the data can't prove cause and effect, but the faddish popularity of collapsible, lightweight scooters is the logical explanation for the bump in injuries. After 2001 the number of injuries declined some, which Smith says could be to a cooling of interest in the scooters and greater attention to safety.

But Smith says scooter-related injuries started to pick up again in 2005, so it would make sense to remind parents and their kids to take care.

Kids should wear helmets when they're on wheeled toys on a hard surface, Smith says. Also, keep kids on scooters away from traffic. Collisions with cars lead to the most serious injuries.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.
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