TVs are bad for kids

This time the concerns about TVs are not because of the content, or excessive viewing time. No. It’s because TV sets can physically fall on small kids[1] and injure them.

On the face of it the claim does make some sense. TVs, especially ones from home-cinema sets, are big and heavy. But they’re not so big that a child climbing on them won’t have an effect. So if a kid climbs on the TV set the TV can fall, and it will likely fall on the child. That, in turn, can certainly cause an injury.

But this ignores what I think is a pretty big problem. The child, and a very young and small child at that[2], has to climb on the TV set first.

In order to do that the child will have to be able to reach the TV. From a position they can start climbing from. Assuming the average toddler can’t pull him/herself up without at least a little help from the leg muscles, that means the TV set will have to be placed very low.

And TV sets aren’t placed very low. People usually watch TV sitting. Sitting in chairs or sofas, not on a mat. And not just lying on the floor. So having a TV located at a height and location where a 3 years old kid can climb on it… sounds highly unlikely.

And somewhat negligent from the parents’ side, who otherwise probably went around baby-proofing nearly everything else in the house. True, a TV isn’t exactly the knife drawer, but parents should notice any piece of furniture with a top low enough that the kid could climb on.

Beyond that, these two articles include some more puzzling and suspect statements (emphases in quoted text are mine).

Contrast one article:

An estimated 2,300 children each year are injured by falling TVs and are sent to the emergency room because of their injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

With another:

U.S. emergency room doctors treated 2,600 children younger than 5 who were injured by falling televisions in 2005, said Arlene Flecha, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The numbers, allegedly coming from the same source, don’t match up. Those are 300 kids who are either invented, or unaccounted for, straight up. With this level of accuracy here, how reliable is the rest of the info supposed to be?

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center studied data on ER visits for 26 children – aged 1 to 7 years old – admitted to the ER after being hit by a falling television between November 2003 and October 2004. One-third of the children sustained injuries serious enough to be admitted to the hospital and stayed for between one to four days.

Wow. Those researches studied a huge data pool of hundreds and hundreds of cases, and… No, wait, scrap that. 26 cases? That’s supposed to be research??

How big is the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center? According to the homepage:

UT Southwestern Medical Center physicians conduct more than 2.1 million outpatient visits and treat thousands in our affiliated hospitals.

So out of more than 2.1 million patient’s records, they had a whooping 26 cases of kids injured by a falling TV? Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they had a similar number of patients who were struck by lightning.

Though of course there are two different, and mutually exclusive, problems with this tiny amount. Either these are not all the kids hit by falling TVs that they had, in which case whatever analysis they do on this group probably tells us nothing, or these are all the kids they had who were hit by falling TVs, in which case there are too few of these altogether in order for the analysis to tell us anything.

Although nearly two-thirds of the TVs in the study were in the 20-inch to 30-inch range, the researchers said they could not determine whether size had anything to do with the hazard.

” ‘The bigger the TV, the worse the injury’ makes sense, but we don’t know,” Ota said. “We don’t have enough cases.

Of course they couldn’t determine anything. Which didn’t prevent them from releasing all sorts of statistics. Lots and lots of factoids, all meaningless. Remember, with this sample size every kid is almost 5% of the cases. It’s not realistic to infer any sort of connection from that.

Eighty-five percent of the TVs fell from a height of between two and five feet above the floor.

The range between two and five feet[3] is huge. They may as well just say that the falling TVs… fell.

It’s also disconcerting. 0.6 meters is very low for a TV. And 1.5 meter is taller than the average 7 years old kid, so how did the kid climb on the TV exactly? If a kid climbs up to a 1.5 meters high table, the kid can fall and get injured regardless of whether there’s a TV there or not.

It also makes me curious about the other 15% (almost 4 whole kids) who were injured by TVs allegedly located either even lower than 0.6 meters above the floor, or higher than 1.5 meters above the floor. That’s very high, so it would be even harder for the kids to reach. And quite uncomfortable to watch, requiring cranking the neck up towards the screen, from most chairs.

“More aggressive education to warn parents about the risk of injury must be implemented so that more families will take the time to display their televisions safely,” researcher Dr. Robert Todd Maxson, an assistant professor of pediatric surgery at UT southwestern and medical director of the pediatric trauma service at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, said in a prepared statement.

Yes, because there aren’t plenty of other things for parents to worry about. Things that actually have a statistically insignificant chance of affecting their kid.

The Dallas researchers propose that warning labels be put on TVs to make more parents aware of the hazard.

Because nothing looks better, or more relevant, on a TV set than a big label stating “WARNING: Climbing on this television can be hazardous to your health”. Sure. I’m convinced.

  1. assuming these small kids actually try to climb on the TV set.[back]
  2. The articles discusses kids younger than 7 years old, median age about 3.3 years.[back]
  3. about 0.6 to 1.5 meters.[back]

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