Concerns over safety of baby walkers in UAE
Cases of children needing hospital treatment after baby walker incidents doubled among families whose homes have stairs.
A study conducted by a team of researchers based in the UAE has raised concerns over the use of baby walkers.
The study, which saw the participation of students of various high schools in Al Ain, was led by a team of researchers at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU). The researchers have found that every child placed in a baby walker is at a risk of injury; there is a 1-in-200 risk of serious disability and a 1-in-1,000 chance of death.
The team collected information from 696 students about accidents in their homes. Almost half the families using a baby walker had seen at least one child being injured.
Of the 646 injuries, three children died - one after being hit by a car while in a baby walker and 11 were left with long-term disabilities.
Following the study, the team - comprising Prof. Michal Grivna, Amna Al Hanaee, Ayesha Al Dhahab, Fatima Al Kaabi, Shamma Al Muhairi of the Institute of Public Health at the UAEU's College of Life Sciences, and Prof. Peter Barss of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver - has suggested that the UAE should follow the footsteps of Canada and ban the sale, importing and advertising of baby walkers.
Canada implemented the ban in 2004, making it the first nation in the world to do so.
Is it safe for use?
The study revealed that 87 per cent of families had baby walkers, with 2,376 children being exposed to their use. In addition to deaths and long-term disability, baby walkers led to 118 children receiving emergency-room treatment and 42 being hospitalised.
The study also found that the most frequent cause of potential baby walker-related injuries is hitting a hard object, which accounted for almost half of the 2,759 incidents reported. Baby walkers flipping over or falling down stairs were also highlighted as key risks.
Moreover, 300 baby walkers were found to have tumbled down stairs, and 32 to have fallen into swimming pools. Cases of children needing hospital treatment after baby walker incidents doubled among families whose homes have stairs.
"Severe and minor non-fatal baby walker injuries as well as deaths were frequent," said the researchers. They added that although only 34 baby walker-related deaths were recorded across the US between 1973 and 1998, Al Ain, 'a city of less than 500,000 people', had seen three alone.
High incidence and severity are due to the high prevalence of baby walkers, built environment hazards, and other factors.
"These are the result of a lack of product safety regulations to ban baby walkers."
Thus, the researchers stressed that active protection by health promotion is required to correct misconceptions about the safety and efficacy of baby walkers. "Until countries have been cleared of baby walkers, families need frequent warnings to avoid and dispose them."
According to the researchers, childproof measures require repeated intervention at household and sales levels, and none are adequate substitutes for a legislation blocking import and sales. They added: "Supervision by parents, older siblings, and others cannot be relied upon. In the UAE, if there are no manufacturers [of baby walkers], a ban could be focused mainly on import and sales."
Will it help babies walk faster?
Dr Hussein Nasser Matlik, consultant, paediatric neurology, said doctors are also urging parents to stop using baby walkers.
Dr Matlik said that there is an ambiguous misconception that baby walkers help children learn how to walk faster. However, he stressed that baby walkers "do the exact opposite."
"There are several studies published by the American Academy of Paediatrics and the British Paediatric Society, which prove that baby walkers will only delay walking.
"There are a lot of dangers when using baby walkers. As the tyres make the baby walker rapid, the infant gets access to dangerous areas, including the kitchen, where sharp objects, knives and even the oven are exposed."
He stressed that global cases of incidents caused by baby walkers prove that it is dangerous to put babies on baby walkers.
"There are many incidents and deaths. Even if the parents can supervise their infants on baby walkers, sometimes they cannot reach in time when a child is exposed to danger."
He said that doctors have also seen cases of infants falling down the stairs in villas, which caused injuries and deaths.
The studies issued a warning to parents, highlighting that baby walkers provides no cooperation between the child's brain and the peripheral muscles.
"Physiologically, for children to walk properly and normally, they need to see their legs and body, which baby walkers prevent."
10 key findings of the study conducted by a team of UAEU researchers
> Three babies killed in Al Ain, 'a city of less than 500,000 people'
> Half the families using baby walkers had seen at least one child being injured
> A 1-in-200 risk of serious disability
> A 1-in-1,000 chance of death for kids on baby walkers
> 11 left with long-term disabilities
> 118 children received emergency-room treatment
> 42 babies hospitalised after using baby walkers
> Most frequent cause of injuries is hitting a hard object
> Baby walkers flipping over was also highlighted as potential hazard
> 646 babies injured in various baby walker-related incidents
Did you know these facts?
> Canada is the first country to ban baby walkers
> Only 34 baby walker-related deaths recorded in US between 1973 and 1998
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