Doctors Call for a Ban on Baby Walkers Despite Injury Declines

Citing a recent study, the American Academy of Pediatrics continues its call for a ban on baby walkers due to the number of injuries they cause in the U.S. each year.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, reveals that over 230,000 children under the age of 15 months were treated for walker-related injuries in emergency rooms nationwide between 1990 and 2014, averaging over 9,000 ER visits per year.

Nearly three-quarters of these injuries were sustained by children falling down the stairs in an infant walker, and over 90 percent of the affected children suffered injuries to the head or neck. Pediatricians counted eight child fatalities associated with baby walkers between 2004 and 2008.

At first glance, the findings appear overwhelmingly negative, but the study also indicates progress regarding the safety of the product in question.

Less than 5 percent of infants admitted to the ER for walker injuries required inpatient hospital care, according to the study. Additionally, from 1990 to 2003, the number of baby-walker injuries fell by almost 85 percent, and over the last decade, injuries associated with the product have continued to decline.

Analysts involved in the Pediatrics study say the decrease in the use of walkers is most likely due to a growing public awareness of safety concerns, safer product alternatives such as stationary activity centers, fewer outdated baby walkers in homes, and safety standard improvements.

In 1997, ASTM International, an organization that develops voluntary standards for a range of materials and services, noted the stairwell injury trend and established a voluntary safety standard which required walkers to be wider than a standard doorway or to brake if one or more wheels fall over the edge of a step. The Consumer Product Safety Commission modified the voluntary standard in 2010 and issued it as a mandatory standard.

The braking feature to prevent stair falls has not proven foolproof. The most common form of braking feature, according to the study, is the use of friction strips on the underside of the walkers. Overuse of the strips, debris buildup, and the ability of strong children to lift up on the walker thwart the effectiveness of the safety features in some cases.

Although the braking mechanism remains fallible, baby walker-related stair falls decreased dramatically over the time period tracked by the study.

Despite the overall increasing safety of baby walkers in recent years, pediatricians continue to call for a ban. “Infant walkers remain an important and preventable source of injury among young children,” wrote the authors of the study.

Doctors maintain that the risks associated with infant walkers, regardless of improvements, necessitate their removal from the market.

“Despite this great success, there are still 2,000 children a year being treated for injuries, many of them serious injuries, in emergency departments,” Dr. Gary Smith told NPR following the study’s publication. “Therefore, we support the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that baby walkers should not be sold or used. There’s absolutely no reason these products should still be on the market.”

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