According to the media, as reflected by Google News this week, they're phenomenal. So phenomenal that hot dogs must be banned, redesigned (which would make them hot dogs no longer, but rather mushy cubes of meat), or should carry warning labels similar to those found on packs of cigarettes:
Now if one simply scans Google News for information of this sort, one might assume that hot dogs kill as many children annually as lead paint on Chinese-manufactured toys. In fact, one would be wrong. Hot dogs kill a substantially greater number of children than Chinese lead-based paint. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 77 children each year choke to death in a vain, futile effort to consume hot dogs:
[T]he academy would like to see foods such as hot dogs "redesigned" so their size, shape and texture make them less likely to lodge in a youngster's throat. More than 10,000 children under 14 go to the emergency room each year after choking on food, and up to 77 die, says the new policy statement, published online today in Pediatrics. About 17% of food-related asphyxiations are caused by hot dogs.
"If you were to take the best engineers in the world and try to design the perfect plug for a child's airway, it would be a hot dog," says statement author Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "I'm a pediatric emergency doctor, and to try to get them out once they're wedged in, it's almost impossible."
Yet it would appear, according to your own academy's data Dr. Smith, that it's ridiculously simple to dislodge a hot dog from a child's windpipe. If only 77 out of 10,000 children admitted annually die of hot dog inhalation, that's far better than the rate for the most basic and treatable cancers, or indeed staphylococcus infections.
And yet there are far more than 10,000 children born each year. According to the CIA World Factbook, the United States has an estimated population of 307,212,123, and a birth rate of 13.83 per 1,000 people. That means, roughly, that 4,248,744 children are born each year. Out of those children, as well as those born earlier, "up to" 77 will choke to death on a hot dog.
The actual odds that your child will choke to death on a hot dog are therefore, roughly, one in 181,230.
Admittedly I'm not attempting to calculate the odds that the child will grow to adulthood only to die of hot dog inhalation. Those odds, presumably, would increase overall hot dog morbidity.
Yet by comparison, according to Political Calculations, the odds are better that an American will die in a fatal lightning strike, but somewhat poorer (though still close) that he or she will die at the fangs of a household dog, or a snake.
So, what's at work here? Has there been a sudden onslaught of children killed by hot dogs? That's doubtful. Hot dogs are pretty much the same today as they were when you and I were growing up. Is there a real need for legislation, or regulation, or redesign, of hot dogs?
Or is there a need for better education on the part of American pediatricians, journalists, legislators, and the public at large, in statistics and actuarial math?
Update: A commenter points out a reading error on my part. While up to 77 children die annually of food asphyxiation, only 17% of food asphyxiation hospital admissions are caused by hot dogs. According to our commenter, that means only 13 or so children are killed by hot dogs each year, if the percentages of deaths and admissions hold true.
I'm not willing to make that assumption. To be fair to the American Academy of Pediatrics, I'll assume that all children killed by food-related asphyxiation in the United States are killed by hot dogs, and that other foods never kill.
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