NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A child is rushed to a U.S. emergency department every 45 minutes with an injury that's related to a falling television, according to a new study.
"These are occurring primarily to younger children… When (the TVs) start coming toward them, they don't realize the danger," said Dr. Gary Smith, the study's senior author and president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance.
Previous research has found that TVs are involved in child injuries, and that the frequency may be increasing. But according to the report published on Monday in Pediatrics, those studies were mostly small case studies, and the information was becoming out of date as the style and average number of TVs in U.S. homes has been changing in recent years.
For a more recent look at TV-related injuries in U.S. children from 1990 through 2011, Smith and his colleagues used a database of emergency department visits at a nationally representative sample of hospitals
The researchers found that about 381,000 children and teenagers were treated in U.S. emergency departments for TV-related injuries during that time.
More than half of the injuries were caused by falling TVs, another 38 percent were caused by children running into the units and about 9 percent were caused by other situations, including televisions being moved from one location to another.
The majority of the injuries were to boys and about 64 percent of the injuries were to children less than five years old. Two-year olds were the age group most likely to be hurt. There were six deaths.
The head and neck area was the most common site of injury, and cuts, bruises and concussions the most common types of injury.
The overall rate of TV-related injuries held steady at about 17,000 per year over the 22-year period.
The percentage of injuries related to "striking" TVs fell dramatically over time, however, while the rate of injuries caused by falling TVs doubled from about 1 per 10,000 children in 1990 to about 2 per 10,000 children in 2011.
Although homes have more TVs now than years ago, Smith said that doesn't explain why injuries related to falling TVs were increasing but not injuries from running into the units.
"What we're finding is when those second and third TVs are being brought into these homes, the (older and bulkier units) are being moved and put in other parts of the home that are unsafe," said Smith, who is also director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
For example, as more people buy flat-screen TVs, their older and bulkier units are being put in bedrooms or playrooms on top of dressers, bureaus, drawers and armoires, which may tip over because they were never designed to support TVs.
"TVs need to be strapped or anchored to the wall. I think that's our biggest problem right now. Many parents are unaware that TVs can be so life threatening if it topples over and falls on top of your child," Smith said.
Dr. Marvin Platt, who has researched TV-related injuries but wasn't involved in the new research, said he hopes pediatricians take an active stance on this issue.
"I think there needs to be much more education to the public and I feel that can be done. Secondly, I think there needs to be legislation or regulation to have TVs secured to surfaces," said Platt, a retired forensic pathologist and pediatrician in Akron, Ohio.
"Unless they take measures to bolt these things down, they're going to fall," he said.
Smith said the new study may underestimate the number of TV-related injuries, because it only captured injuries seen in emergency departments. There may be some injuries that were treated at home or in doctors' offices.
The ER data used by the researchers also wouldn't record most deaths related to falling TVs, though Smith's team does note in its report that according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 215 children died of injuries caused by a falling TV between 2000 and 2011.
"If you have a TV at home - it doesn't matter if it's a flat screen or (cathode ray tube model) - that TV must be anchored to a wall," Smith said, adding that people can find additional information on his organization's website preventchildinjury.org.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, online July 22, 2013.