Research finds children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds less likely to swallow magnets, but require more significant treatment
Washington, D.C.— Despite efforts to educate the general public about the dangers of high-powered magnet toys, children continue to be injured by the small, high-powered, rare-earth balls after they swallow them or insert them into their nose or ear— even in households where parents fully understood the dangers of the toys, according to research presented during the 2023 AAP National Conference & Exhibition at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Researchers of the abstract, “Socioeconomic Disparities in Pediatric High-Powered Magnet Ingestion Epidemiology and Outcomes,” reviewed data of patients, age 21 and younger, from 2017-2019 with injuries from high-powered magnet ingestions/insertions. The data is from a retrospective cohort study with 25 U.S. children’s hospitals. Researchers previously found that these injuries are increasing despite age restrictions, warning labels, and educational public health campaigns explaining the dangers.
“High-powered, rare-earth magnetic balls or beads are often sold as fun, stress-relieving toys, but they are among the most dangerous toys when kids eat them. It doesn't matter what the child's socioeconomic or racial background is, whether the child is being watched, or if supervising adults know the magnets are dangerous – kids still manage to eat them and many of them need surgery to fix the internal damage caused by the magnets,” said Minna Wieck, MD, BA, FAAP, assistant professor of pediatric surgery, UC Davis Children's Hospital. “The only foolproof way to make sure these injuries don't happen is to keep these types of magnets away from kids.”
Of the 594 high-powered magnet exposures in the study, 74.3% were from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Even though children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to incur or seek care for a high-powered magnet exposure, the study found that those patients required more invasive procedures and surgeries, longer hospital admission, and more readmissions to save their lives.
The research also found that the circumstances around the injuries were different among children from lower or higher socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were less likely to have been directly supervised by a caregiver at the time of exposure. Conversely, children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to have parents who knew that these rare-earth, high-powered magnet toys can be dangerous when swallowed. There was no difference in the time caregivers took to seek care or the size or number of magnets children swallowed or inserted.
"Parents almost never think their kid will ‘be so dumb as to swallow’ magnets. But kids are doing so more often, despite adult supervision and even when adults know that these magnets are potentially dangerous,” Dr. Wieck said. “Since risk is proportional to access, the safest way to prevent injuries is to remove high-powered magnets from any environment where children may be present.”
Study author Leah K. Middelberg, MD, FAAP, is scheduled to present their research, which is below, from 3:25 - 3:32 PM Sunday Oct. 22,2023 at the Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention program. To request an interview with the authors, contact Dr. Middelberg at Leah.Middelberg@nationwidechildrens.org.
In addition, Dr. Middelberg is among highlighted abstract authors who will give a brief presentation and will be available for interviews during a press conference Saturday, Oct. 21, from noon-1 p.m. ET in the National Conference Press Room 102 AB. During the meeting, you may reach AAP media relations staff in the press room.]
Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visits. Reporters can access the meeting program and other relevant meeting information through the AAP meeting website at http://www.aapexperience.org/
Submission Type: Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention
Abstract Title: Socioeconomic disparities in pediatric high-powered magnet ingestion epidemiology and outcomes
Sacramento, CA, United States
High powered magnets are an increasingly frequent cause of unintentional injury in children. Despite the recent passage of regulations limiting the production of these magnets, ongoing advocacy and public education regarding the dangers of these products is needed. Such efforts are limited by the lack of data on how socioeconomic status (SES) impacts the incidence and prevention of these injuries. Thus, the goal of this study is to describe SES-associated differences in high powered magnet exposures.
In this multicenter, retrospective cohort study from 25 US children’s hospitals from 2017-2019, patients aged 0-21 years with a confirmed high-powered magnet ingestion or insertion were included. Details regarding demographics, exposure, injury, and treatment were collected. Children were grouped into SES groups based on zip code using the geocoded Childhood Opportunity Index (COI). Clinical characteristics and outcomes were compared between children with low (0-40) and high (41-100) COI scores.
594 patients with a high-powered magnet exposure were identified, of which 74.3% occurred among children with high COI scores. Children with a low COI score were less likely to have been directly supervised by a caregiver at the time of exposure (11.3% vs 17.4, p=0.047). Fewer parents in the low COI group (10.6 vs 19.4%, p=0.44) knew that magnets were dangerous. More children with a low COI had an injury compared to those with a high COI, although the difference was not statistically significant (13.2 vs 8.4%, p=0.08). Children with a low COI score were more likely to undergo both endoscopy and surgery (9.3 vs 2.9%, p=0.001), had a longer mean length of stay (4.4 days vs 3.3 days, p=0.007), and were more likely to require readmission (5.4 vs 1.6%, p=0.04) compared to those with a high COI score. Notably, there was no statistically significant difference in the time caregivers took to seek care; the time to the definitive care hospital; or the size or number of magnets per exposure.
Children with a higher SES account are more likely to have a high-powered magnet exposure, but children with a lower SES require more invasive procedures for treatment, longer stays in the hospital, and more readmissions Caregivers across all SES groups need to be more aware of the danger these magnets pose, but these data illuminate opportunities for focused advocacy and education.