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July Is the Deadliest Month for Kids

Swimming is the riskiest activity

MONDAY, May 7 (HealthScout) -- Summertime, and the livin' is easy -- and dangerous for children.

Nearly half of all accidental childhood deaths happen in May through August, and the deadliest month is July, says a new study.

"We've often heard anecdotal evidence, and there have been a few regional studies, but this is the first national report on seasonal trends in fatal and non-fatal unintentional injuries," says Angela Mickalide, program director for the National Safe Kids Campaign in Washington, D.C. "And it stands to reason. Kids are no longer sitting at their desks in school. They are up and about. The days are longer, and there are gaps in supervision, given that more moms and dads are working full time."

The study looked at national mortality and injury data for kids, aged 14 and under, from the National Center for Health Statistics, focusing on drowning, car and pedestrian accidents, and fall and bike crashes from 1991 to 1996.

Among the study's findings:

  • 42 percent of the 40,240 unintentional injury-related deaths among children occurred during summer months, with July accounting for 12 percent. Two-thirds of the deaths were a result of bike, pedestrian, motor vehicle or fall injuries or drowning;
     
  • 45 percent of the deaths among children aged 10 to 14 occurred during the summer;
     
  • Drowning was the greatest summer risk for children 14 and under, with 4,124 drowning deaths between May and August;
     
  • Bicycle-related accident deaths jumped by almost 66 percent during the summer

"We were quite surprised to find that the increase in the number of deaths during the summer happen to kids 10 to 14," she says. "Most of Safe Kids' efforts in injury prevention have been focusing on our youngest, most vulnerable children, but, in fact, older children are experiencing the greatest danger."

Kids 10 to 14 are taking more risks, Mickalide says. "Developmentally, that's what they are supposed to be doing, exploring the environment, walking more, biking farther away from home. We presume that parents give kids more freedom during the summer, but that, obviously, has its risks."

The study points to the need for parents to be on their toes all summer, says Dr. M. Douglas Baker, former chair of the section on pediatric emergency medicine of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Parents have to supervise their children properly," says Baker, a professor of emergency medicine pediatrics at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. "They have to help them decide what activities are proper and safe according to the age group and their capabilities."

"And it's not always just about age. Some 8-year-olds are very sophisticated in motor skills, and some 8-year-olds are lacking in motor skills. These decisions need to be made using what parents know about their own children," Douglas says.

"Parents must take responsibility here. They must ensure that their kids are using proper safety gear, gear that's in good shape and not faulty," Douglas says.

Fatalities are "only the tip of the iceberg," Douglas says. Many, many more kids show up in emergency rooms or go to their health care providers or to the school nurse with less serious but important injuries, he says.

What To Do

Douglas says dual-income families "need to find other ways to fill in the supervisory gap. Find other family members, friends or neighbors to keep an eye on your kids."

Mickalide says, "Parents need to have frank discussions with the kids about the dangers of biking, swimming, whatever kids like to do during the summer months. They have to tell them what the safety risks might be, tell their kids about summer incidence of death and injury and help them understand it's summer, not winter."

For more on how to keep your kids safe this summer, see the American Academy of Pediatrics or the National Safe Kids Campaign.

And read these HealthScout stories on children's safety.

SOURCES: Interviews with Angela Mickalide, Ph.D., program director, National Safe Kids Campaign, Washington, D.C., and M. Douglas Baker, M.D., professor of emergency medicine pediatrics, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; May 3, 2001, Summer Trauma Season: A National Study of the Seasonality of Unintentional Childhood Injury
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