Should Hot Dogs Carry Warning Label for Kids?

Manufactured foods, however, as the argument goes, can and should be monitored, altered and/or provide warnings to consumers when their shape, size and consistency make them a choking risk.

Given that hot dogs, a popular favorite among children, account for around 17 percent of food-related choking incidents, the AAP statement pays specific attention to the dangers of feeding this ballpark treat to small children.

"Hot dogs are the food most commonly associated with fatal choking among children. It is cylindrical, airway-sized, and compressible, which allows it to wedge tightly into a child's hypopharynx and completely occlude [block] the airway," the authors write.

"The hot dog is probably the number one food kids choke on. It would make sense to work with manufacturers ... to strategize to see how it could be designed to be safer," says Nan Peterson, Safe Kids Coalition Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Warning -- Danger Lurks in Hot Dogs

While most pediatricians and emergency medicine experts support the statement's cautious approach, some question if mandatory labels and government product-monitoring are the best ways to make kids safer. Hot dog manufacturers share their doubts.

"The top two brands [Ball Park and Oscar Mayer] already have guidance [labels] on them," says Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. While these labels do not seem to have affected business, she also notes that it is not clear that labels affect the amount of choking incidents or really serve to educate parents.

This might become more of an issue if, as the statement suggests, the same warnings applied to toys are applied to food. Unlike the current labels on major hot dog products, which are "child safety instructions" on the order of serving suggestions, toy-modeled warnings would be large orange labels that read: "WARNING: choking hazard" -- a more off-putting signal for potential consumers.

What's more, Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer Research at University of California, Davis, who studies how labels affect consumer behavior, points out that for the most part, buyers don't tend to read labeling on familiar products.

Bruhn, whose own son nearly choked to death on a hard candy when he was 2, says that other means of educating the public, through physicians and the media, may be more effective.

Riley also questions whether it makes sense to ask hot dog manufacturers to redesign their age-old product given that it is just as easy for parents to cut up hot dogs -- which their Web site advises for small children -- as they would grapes, carrots and other "natural" choking hazards.

"I have two kids, and as you'd guess, they eat a lot of hot dogs. It's a common thing you do with food like that when you have small kids -- slice them into smaller pieces," Riley says.

Dr. Greg Rebella, a pediatric emergency department doctor at American Family Children's Hospital, Ohio, also questions whether labels and product changes are practical:

"Unlike toys that are not meant to be put in your mouth, the obvious purpose for foods is to consume them. Food preparation [and] age that the food was given to will likely impact the risk of choking more than the actual food as distributed and packaged," he says. Rebella notes that public education is the best way to prevent choking.

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