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By Jack Dini

How much is too much when intervening to protect children?

Children under age 10 eat almost 2 billion hot dogs a year. In 2006 there were 61 choking deaths and hot dogs accounted for 13 of these. Any child death is tragic, yet at the instigation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, federal bureaucrats at the FDA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are studying whether to require the nation’s hot dog makers to redesign hot dogs to reduce the likelihood of choking. (1) Children choke on a wide range of items including candy, gum, and balloons. Should we re-design candy, gum, and balloons also? The odds of a child choking to death on a hot dog are .0065 per million. The odds of a toddler (aged 1-4) dying in motor vehicle traffic is 46 per million, drowning, 20 per million, and bicycles, 2 per million. (2) Hot dogs aren’t even on the chart.

The odds that a person will be struck by lightning in any given year are about 4,000 times higher than the odds of a child choking to death on a hot dog. The Richmond Times-Dispatch notes, “Given that context, redesigning hot dogs looks like a solution in search of a problem.”  They add, “If the regulatory state has reached a point at which it is warning about the dangers of patently safe products, then the public might reasonably wonder what exactly is being protected—the health of young children, or the jobs of federal employees.” (1)

What about TV sets? More than 264,000 children in the US (most of them younger than 6) were injured by falling furniture between 1990 and 2007, resulting in about 300 deaths. Nearly half were hurt by falling TVs; large flat-screen models, which often sit on a narrow base, are particularly risky. (3) Sure sounds a lot more dangerous than hot dogs. Should we inspect every house to make sure TV sets are securely supported on stands or are well anchored to the wall?

Fight Fast-Food Establishments

As part of a crusade against childhood obesity, three politicians in Santa Clara, a county of 180,000 people in California, decided that parents are not allowed to decide whether they can take their children to a restaurant where they might receive a toy alongside their meal. The ordinance, which the board passed by a 3-2 vote, is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. The target is the fast-food industry and what critics call its practice of marketing unhealthful food to children and fueling an epidemic of obesity among the young. Violations under the version the board approved would be punishable by fines of as much as $1,000 for each meal sold with a toy. (4)

No debate, Child obesity is a problem that needs to be addressed. How about increasing the activity level of kids by encouraging them to exercise more often, by making them aware of options and by educating parents? Or heaven forbid, having the toddlers walk to school. You don’t fight child obesity by putting restrictions on restaurants and how they can market their products.

More and More- It’s Never Ending

The list goes on and on. If you enjoy reading about this stuff, check the book Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. (5) Here are some tidbits from the book, almost in the believe-it-or-not category.

– One Chicago suburb doesn’t allow anyone to play baseball on the local ball fields unless they obtain a permit. So, legally kids cannot just drop by and play ball.

– In another Chicago suburb, one grammar school’s teachers were required to sit their students down and impress upon them the dangers of hula hoops. The kids were told not to swing the hoops around their necks or arms or roll them around the playground.

– An elementary school in Attleboro, MA has gone so far as to outlaw the game of tag because as the principal said, ‘accidents can happen.’

– “Something like 40 percent of schools have gotten rid of recess,” says Philip Howard, chairman of the bipartisan legal reform group, Common Good. “Part of the reason is the obsession with testing and that every minute should be spent drilling for the test. But another reason is that you have to monitor recess, and there’s liability.” Schools are so afraid of being sued, they feel they have no choice but to protect themselves from lawyered-up parents, and the most efficient way to do this is to make sure students don’t do anything where they could possibly injure themselves.

– A nationwide survey of five thousand principals found that 20 percent of them spend five to ten hours a week writing reports or having meetings just in order to avoid litigation. Half of all principals say they’ve already been threatened with a lawsuit.

Skenazy adds, “The fear of lawsuits is having the same effect beyond the schoolyard. Normal childhood has become just too risky to permit. So while a Connecticut park district considers a ban on sledding, a parent sues Little League for not teaching her son the ins and outs of sliding. He broke his leg. Another parent sued and American Legion baseball team because the sun was in her child’s eyes. Another mom sued a baseball league when she got hit by a ball that she said the coaches should have taught the player to catch, (The butterfingers was her own daughter.)”

References

  1. Staff Reports, “Regulation: Protection Racket,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 9, 2010
  2. Are Children More Vulnerable to Environmental Chemicals?, (New York, American Council on Science and Health, 2003), Daland R. Juberg, Editor, 104
  3. “Wellness Tips,” Wellness Letter, August 2009
  4. Justin Berton, “Santa Clara County says no to fast-food toys,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 28, 2010
  5. Lenore Skenazy, Free-Range Kids, (Hoboken, New Jersey, Jossey-Bass, 2009), 44

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