MONDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- For more than 5,000 American
children each year, an open window brings serious injury or even
death, a new report finds.
And the younger the child, the bigger the odds that a tumble
from a window will prove lethal. The study, done at the Center for
Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in
Columbus, Ohio, found that children under the age of five were more
than three times as likely to die from head injuries sustained in
window falls than children aged five to 17 years old.
And even though it's assumed that urban kids are at greatest
risk, injuries from window falls occur "throughout the nation in
urban and suburban areas," the study authors say.
"We have known for decades about the problem of children falling from windows," said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the center and an author of the study. "Despite the fact that we have known about it, we still have a problem."
Although falls from a window represent a small percentage of
childhood mishaps, "they are preventable, and that's why we focus
on them," said Smith.
The findings were published online Aug. 22 in the journal
In the study, Smith's team used data gathered from 1990 to 2008
by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which
collects information from emergency departments at 100 hospitals
around the United States. Estimates of window falls, injuries and
deaths were derived from the representative sample, said Smith.
Nearly 100,000 children were injured in falls from windows
during that period, the researchers found.
The vast majority of injuries, 93 percent, occurred from first-
and second-floor falls, probably because more children live in
houses than high-rise buildings, Smith explained. But, he noted, 25
percent of all falls resulted in hospitalization, so falls from
lower windows can be serious.
He said boys are more likely than girls to fall from a window,
possibly as a result of horsing around or showing off for friends.
Of the more than 98,000 children who were estimated to have fallen
during the 19-year study period, 58 percent were boys.
Close to 2,000 children were estimated to have died from window
falls between 1990-2008 but Smith said the number was probably
lower than the reality, because the surveillance only captured
deaths that occurred in emergency rooms.
These tragic deaths and injuries are unnecessary, experts say.
Smith, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the College of
Medicine at The Ohio State University, cited successful programs in
New York City and Boston that educate parents about window dangers
and require window guards or locks to helps keep children safe.
In the early 1970's both cities started advertising campaigns
aimed at making parents aware of the risk of open windows, and
landlords are now required to install window guards in apartments
with young children.
"We know what works," said Smith, adding that the same measures need to be taken in the rest of the country.
For younger children, installing guards and moving furniture
away from windows are good ways to prevent window falls, said
Smith, noting that children under five "are exploring" and want to
see what is outside the window.
"They aren't aware of the danger," he said.
Older children, meanwhile, can figure out how to remove window
guards, so they need to be educated about risky behavior that can
result in falls.
Another way to prevent injuries is to cushion surfaces under
windows with shrubs and grass. Not surprisingly, more serious
injuries occur where landing surfaces are hard, said Smith.
Noting the large number of injuries from lower stories, another
expert called for a greater effort to educate the public. "There is
a lot of room for public health campaigns about how to protect our
children," said Dr. Tamara R. Kuittinen, director of medical
education in the department of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill
Hospital in New York City.
"We still see these injuries," she said, even though the study showed a decline in injuries to children under 5 during the first 10 years of the study, mainly due to the types of campaigns noted in the research. The study also showed that windows, "no matter how high, can be dangerous to children," said Kuittinen.
"We need to push lobbyists" to get the needed legislation to combat the problem, she said.
To learn more about how to protect children from window falls,
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.