updated 6/10/2004 3:18:55 PM ET 2004-06-10T19:18:55

Hanging and other forms of suffocation have overtaken guns as the chief means of suicide among American youngsters 10 to 14 years old, the government said Thursday.

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Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were surprised by the switch and said they first noticed the trend in the early 1990s. By the end of the decade, suffocations had surpassed self-inflected shootings.

Health officials said they do not know why the switch occurred and whether it had anything to do with the use of trigger locks, lock boxes and other measures for keeping guns out of youngsters’ hands.

By contrast, suffocations are often carried out with common household items such as belts, ropes or plastic bags.

In 1992, there were 96 suicides by suffocation among Americans 10 to 14 years old, the CDC said. That rose to 163 in 2001. Firearm suicides dropped from 172 to 90 during the same period.

Suffocation suicides also rose among teens ages 15 to 19 during the same period (from 333 deaths a year to 551). Firearms remain the most common means of suicide for that group, though the number of deaths from self-inflicted shootings dropped from 1,251 a year to 838, the CDC said.

Overall, the suicide rate for those ages 10 to 19 fell by about a quarter, from 6.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 1992 to 4.6 per 100,000 in 2001, the CDC said.

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