Shopping cart danger: 66 kids hurt a day, study finds

This little guy is quiet, but researchers say more than 24,000 children in the U.S. go to the emergency room each year after shopping cart accidents.Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters / REUTERS

The combination of kids and shopping carts is never easy, as any parent of a squirmy toddler knows, but a new study confirms it’s also dangerous, with an estimated 66 children a day in the U.S. hurt in falls and spills.

That’s one child injured badly enough every 22 minutes to go to the emergency room, or more than 24,000 children a year, according to research from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

And the problem hasn’t gotten better since voluntary shopping cart safety standards took effect in 2004. In fact, since then, the annual number of concussions tied to shopping carts in children younger than 15 jumped nearly 90 percent, according to a new analysis of data from 1990 to 2011 by Dr. Gary Smith, director of Nationwide’s Center for Injury Research and Policy.

“This is a setup for a major injury,” Smith said. “The major group we are concerned about are children under 5.” His study is published in the January issue of the journal Clinical Pediatrics. 

Kids ages newborn to 4 accounted for nearly 85 percent of the injuries. More than 70 percent of the harm was caused by falls out of shopping carts, followed by running into a cart or carts tipping over.

It only takes a moment for a parent to look away for a shopping cart accident to happen, Smith said. A wiggly baby in an infant seat or a toddler reaching for a bright box of cereal can easily cause a fall that results in serious injury. Children’s center of gravity is high, their heads are heavy and they don’t have enough arm strength to break a fall, Smith explained.

Just last week, a 19-year-old worker at an Alaska Home Depot caught a baby in mid-air after she fell out of a shopping cart. Christopher Strickland of Anchorage rescued the girl seconds before her head would have hit the concrete floor.

Part of the problem is that the U.S. lacks stability standards for shopping carts that have been adopted in other countries, Smith said.

Parents should opt for carts that seat kids low to the ground, like those with toy cars or fire engines, he said. Otherwise, they should avoid carts, if possible, or remain vigilant while their children are using them.