When I was a kid, my best friend/next-door neighbor had three younger brothers; their house was always a fun place to play. A common activity involved standing at the top of the lower flight of bare-wood steps and seeing if you could jump all the way to the landing at the bottom. Amazingly, I don’t recall anyone ever getting hurt.
I hadn’t thought of those shenanigans for years — until I saw a new study published Monday morning in the journal Pediatrics that tallies stair-related injuries among little kids.
According to the federally funded research, the number of serious stairs-related injuries among kids under 5 declined by 11.6 percent between 1999 and 2008, and most injuries related to stairs weren’t serious enough to require hospitalization.
Drawing on data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the study estimates an average of 93,189 trips to emergency departments for stair-related injuries per year among kids under 5 during that time. But that number actually declined from 101,335 cases in 1999 to 89,619 in 2008.
Injuries included everything from soft-tissue damage (such as bruises), cuts and puncture wounds to bone fractures. More than 97 percent of injured children who were taken to emergency departments were discharged and sent home instead of being admitted to the hospital.
Probably the most interesting detail to emerge from the study was the fact that more than a quarter of serious injuries among children under 1 year old occurred when the child was being carried down stairs by a caregiver. Those injuries tended toward the more serious, as they typically involved an adult’s body falling on top of a child’s body.
Four-year-olds were more likely than younger kids to be injured when jumping down stairs (!), and more than 14,000 injuries were associated with that behavior. Riding wheeled toys down stairs led to many kids’ injuries, too.
The study notes that in the mid- to late 1990s, the use of baby walkers came into disfavor. As fewer parents have used those devices, fewer stair-related injuries have resulted from their use. Still, 1,352 such injuries occurred in 2008.
The study concludes with a call to action: Parents need to be educated about stair-related hazards and should discourage kids from playing on or near stairs. They definitely should stop using baby walkers, which, as the study notes, serve no useful purpose and can even hinder a child’s development, stairs or no stairs. Staircases should be kept clear of objects that people can trip on, and attention should be paid to the spacing of steps to minimize the likelihood of misstep. Adults should limit their practice of carrying kids up and down stairs and should never carry something else in addition to the child; that spare hand should be firmly gripping the stair rail. Kids themselves should be discouraged from carrying objects up or down stairs. And they definitely shouldn’t ride their bikes down the stairs.
Or, for that matter, jump from the top step.