The Washington Post

5,000 children a year hurt falling from windows, study reports

The other day at the gym, the TV was tuned to a show about people searching for new homes under the guidance of a hotshot realtor. This episode featured a single mom who wanted more space for herself and her 7-month-old. One of the apartments shown had a room that the realtor thought would be perfect for the baby, in part because it had . . . a window, low to the floor so the child could look outside through it.

I nearly fell off the treadmill. It was one of those moments where you want to shout at the people on screen, telling them that such a window is a terrible idea for a small child’s room.

The September issue of Pediatrics includes a report on the number of children who came to hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to falls from windows. The report estimates that 98,415 children were treated for such injuries between 1990 and 2008. That’s an annual average of about 5,000 kids.

Not surprisingly, more children fall from windows during warm weather. More boys than girls fall from windows. The study found that children under age 4 were most likely to suffer head injuries and to be hospitalized or die from their injuries than were older children. Even falls from first-floor windows resulted in injuries serious enough to warrant a trip to the hospital.

The study, which looked at data from about 100 hospitals nationwide, found that “children who landed on hard surfaces were more likely to sustain head injuries and to be hospitalized or to die, compared with children who landed on cushioning surfaces” such as flower beds or bushes. That may sound kind of obvious, but it has important implications: Homeowners and landlords, the authors suggest, should consider placing such cushioning surfaces beneath windows, instead of concrete, asphalt or even plain dirt or grass.

Kids ages 5 to 17 whose falls resulted from “risky behavior,” such as jumping or climbing out the window, tended to have less-serious injuries compared to those who didn’t exhibit such behaviors. Turns out the risk-takers typically sustained lower-body injuries while those who didn’t jump or climb out the window typically injured their heads or faces, which led to more hospitalizations and deaths in that group.

Just 0.2 percent of window falls in the study were fatal; that’s clearly an underestimate, the authors note, as the data analyzed didn’t include kids who died without having been taken to the hospital. Nor did the research tease out instances in which suicidal intent may have been in play.

The study says parents and caregivers should be instructed that screens do not protect kids from falling from windows, and they should be encouraged to take such measures as installing window guards to help keep kids safe.

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