That amounts to more than 12,000 emergency visits a year from kids ages birth to 14, but the problem is actually even more significant since most kids who choke don't wind up at the hospital.
"As dramatic as this study is, this is clearly an underestimate," says Dr. Gary Smith, the study's senior author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Those children between the ages of birth to 4 were most likely to choke on food, with hard candy accounting for 15 percent of choking incidents. Other kinds of candy and gum were the culprit behind 13 percent of episodes, followed by meat — not including hot dogs — and bones. Nuts, seeds and hot dogs were the foods most likely to end up in a hospital stay — nuts and seeds because they're difficult for little teeth to chew and hot dogs because they can be sucked into the airway and cause more serious choking.
"If you were going to get the best engineer in the world, you couldn't design a better plug for a child's airway than a hot dog," says Smith.
Children's airways are relatively small compared to those of adults, notes Dr. Phyllis Agran, a pediatric gastroenterologist and professor emerita at the University of California, Irvine's medical school. "The bigger you are, the more room there is," says Agran.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping foods including hot dogs, nuts, chunks of meat or cheese, whole grapes and hard candy away from kids younger than 4.
Image: Whole grapes, via Shutterstock