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April 3, 2006

Few Child Safety Seat Models Available for Obese Children

An increasing number of obese youngsters are unable to use child car safety seats, according to a study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Injury Research and Policy. The study, published in the April 2006 edition of Pediatrics, found there are substantial numbers of children who exceed the maximum weight limits set for most child safety seat models currently available.

“While we await reductions in the childhood obesity epidemic, it is essential to develop child safety seats that can protect children of all shapes and sizes,” said the lead author Lara Trifiletti, PhD, a researcher with the Columbus Children’s Research Institute Center for Injury Research and Policy. Trifiletti conducted her research while at the Bloomberg School’s Center for Injury Research and Policy, which also funded the study. “Motor vehicle crashes pose the single greatest risk to children, accounting for 23 percent of injury deaths among infants and 30 percent among preschool-aged children. Options for maximizing the protection of obese children in automobiles must be identified.”

Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 2005 Child Safety Seat Ease of Use Ratings, the researchers assessed the types and specifications of available safety seat models. Estimates of the numbers of children weighing above the maximum weight limits for those child safety seats were calculated using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2000, which was assembled by the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census.

According to the study, a total of 283,305 U.S. children from one to six years of age would have a difficult, if not impossible, time fitting safely and appropriately into a child safety seat because of their weight. The vast majority of the children in the study were three years of age and weighed more than 40 pounds (182,661 children). For these children, there are currently only four child safety seat models available, each of which costs between $240 and $270.

“Aside from the long-term health consequences, obese children may be inadequately protected while riding in cars. There is an immediate need for child safety seats that are designed, tested and approved for use at higher weights,” said senior author Andrea Carlson Gielen, ScD, ScM, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy and a professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Lowe at 410-955-6878 or  paffairs@jhsph.edu.