Doctors seek ban on infant walkers as study reports thousands of injuries

Skull fractures concussions and broken bones are common injuries when children not yet able to walk use infant walkers and fall down stairs

Even still, today, infant walkers are still sold by many major retailers, and hospital emergency rooms still treat more than 2,000 children a year for related injuries, many of them serious.

More than 90 percent of incidents involved head and neck injuries, while 74 percent were injured falling down the stairs while using an infant walker.

While the greatest decrease in injuries occurred during the earlier years of the study, there was an additional 23% drop in injuries in the 4 years after the federal mandatory safety standard went into effect in 2010 compared with the prior 4 years.

Over the years covered by the study, the number baby-walker injuries did decrease dramatically, dropping from 20,650 in 1990 to 2,001 in 2014. The devices are banned in Canada, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that they be banned in the United States as well.

Though the majority of walker-related injuries are stair-related, walkers also can be hazardous because they give infants easy access to unsafe things "that they might not otherwise be able to reach", researchers wrote in the study. Walkers also allow children access to things they might not otherwise be able to reach, such as an oven door or toxic household substances, the researchers said. About 30 percent of the injuries were concussions or skull fractures. "Children at this age are curious but do not recognize danger", Dr. Gary Smith, the study's senior author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, told CBS News.

In 1997, a voluntary safety standard required the base of baby walkers to be wider than a standard 36-inch doorway, or to have a device that automatically engages a brake if one of the wheels drops over the edge of a step, the researchers said. But by 2010 the CPSC stepped in to give the safety standards of walkers a reboot, demanding that companies implement rigorous standards when it came to manufacturing.

The latest study had both good news and bad news. Almost three-quarters were hurt after falling down the stairs.

Amongst the top of the CPSC's concerns was preventing kids from falling down the stairs when facing the opposite way of a staircase, making sure that walkers were tipping resistant, making sure that walkers could bare the load of a child jumping and bouncing in his or her seat, and occupant retention (making sure that your child wouldn't be trapped in the seat by leg holes that were too small).

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Smith said parents still underestimate the safety risk these devices pose. "Many families still use baby walkers, despite being aware of their potential dangers", he said.

"Warning labels and educational campaigns have not been shown to be effective strategies for reducing infant walker-related injuries", they wrote.

"Many parents believe baby walkers offer their children entertainment, promote walking and providing a baby with an activity while the parents are busy doing something else", Smith said. He added that these products do not promote walking.

Pediatricians say walkers have no benefits for children or their parents.

Instead of baby walkers, pediatricians advise belly time or using stationary activity centers where babies can be entertained by being rocked or bounced without being mobile. But studies have shown that they might slow motor development, Rose says.

Health Canada defines them as those "that are mounted on wheels or on any other device permitting movement of the walker and that have an enclosed area supporting the baby in a sitting or standing position so that their feet touch the floor, thereby enabling the horizontal movement of the walker".

Dr. Peter Richel, chief of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., said he wasn't surprised by the findings. Publicity about the hazards has led some parents to stop using infant walkers and manufacturers to voluntarily tighten safety standards.

The study was published online September 17 in the journal Pediatrics.

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