Every week, children worldwide choke on food and die. U.S. pediatricians say choking deaths are preventable and they happen too often. The pediatricians are calling for consistent use of warning labels on high-risk foods and re-design of others.
It's a good thing Nathan Gelder knew the universal sign for choking when he was having lunch last year with his friend Kaiden Condos. And it's a good thing Kaiden knew what to do.
"I was choking on a brat [bratwurst] and I gave the universal sign to Kaiden that I was choking," Gelder explained. "He came in and did the Heimlich on me."
Eight year old Marquis McCollins used the Heimlich maneuver on his little brother L.J. when L.J. choked on a coin. "I grabbed him and pushed his stomach," McCollins said.
And with the pushes, the coin disloged. Marquis received a medal for his quick thinking.
The Heimlich maneuver involves placing both arms around a choking victim. You make a fist with one hand and, with the other hand, deliver upward thrusts into the victim's abdomen.
While the Heimlich maneuver is a good thing to know, Dr. Gary Smith, a pediatrician, says many foods that are thought to be kid friendly are actually dangerous like grapes, popcorn, nuts, bratwurst and hot dogs.
"If you were to design the perfect plug for a child's airway, you couldn't do much better than a hot dog tip." Dr. Smith said. "This will wedge itself in so tightly and completely block the airway that within minutes, because of lack of oxygen, a child will die."
Doctor Smith heads the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
He and other pediatricians are calling for warning labels on high risk foods. In the U.S., some toys, like small rubber balls, must carry warning labels.
Dr. Smith compares those balls to gum balls. "This is a gum ball, same shape and size, poses the same threat to a child's airway. And yet there are no regulations to prevent this from getting into the hands of a child," he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics wants food manufacturers to change the size and shape of dangerous foods.
It wants parents to reduce the risk of choking by first cutting hot dogs in half lengthwise, cutting grapes into quarters and reducing the size of other foods that can get stuck in children's throats.
The academy says some foods, like hard candy, nuts, seeds and whole grapes, raw carrots, should never be given to toddlers.
But, if a child is choking and cannot make noise or is turning blue, parents should know the Heimlich maneuver, or for babies under the age of one, give a few quick slaps on the back and then chest thrusts.