The Top Preventable Causes of Death in Children

As a parent, you never want to think about anything bad happening to your child. You make it your sole mission to keep your child healthy and ensure they thrive. Unfortunately, accidents happen, and sometimes they can be life-threatening.

While learning about accidents and deaths among children can be difficult, being aware of these high-risk situations can help inform the decisions you make as a parent and may help you reduce risks for your children.

The following are some of the top preventable and accidental causes of death among children.

Hot Car Deaths

Too often as parents, we might think there’s no way that we could ever forget our children in the car yet countless situations have shown us that it can happen to any parent. Nearly all hot car deaths among children are accidents.

When parents are busy, tired, facing hormonal or mental health issues, or are distracted, they may forget their baby is in the car. Eighty-seven percent of children who die of a vehicular heatstroke are three years old or younger.

Unfortunately, the temperature in a car on a day that’s hot and sunny can go up 20 degrees in 10 minutes.

Even on a cooler day, the temperature can still rise to dangerous levels. For example, if it’s a 70-degree day, the temperature can go up to 104 degrees in an hour.

Children aren’t able to regulate their body temperature in the same way as an adult. When a child gets hot, their body temperature can rise three to five times faster than that of an adult.

When parents have young children, they should have a plan in place to avoid leaving them in a car. This can include creating a reminder for themselves that their child is in the backseat, particularly if the child is still in a rear-facing car seat.

Parents should always make sure they check their cars before they get out and lock it and should be particularly vigilant if they’re not following their typical routine.


Choking occurs when a child gets something stuck in their airway. When a child chokes, they can’t breathe properly because air can’t flow in or out of the lungs.

If the airway is completely blocked, then it means the child’s brain isn’t getting oxygen, and that can become life-threatening.

Signs that a child is choking to the point that they aren’t getting oxygen include gasping or wheezing and an inability to talk, cry or make noises. Turning blue, grabbing at the throat, seeming to panic, going limp, or becoming unconscious are other signs.

Parents should call 911 for a serious choking situation, and using the Heimlich Maneuver and CPR are important as well.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

One of the leading causes of death among children in the United States is motor vehicle injuries according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of children 12 and younger who died in a car crash in 2017, 35% were not buckled, making many of these injuries and deaths preventable.

Crashes cause one out of every four unintentional injury deaths in children under the age of 13, and one of the best ways to help prevent these situations is to restrain kids in rear seats instead of the front seat.

It’s also important that in addition to putting children in the rear of the car, they have the appropriate child seat or booster seat.

Pedestrian safety should be of note for parents too. There were nearly 6,000 pedestrians killed in traffic-related crashes in the U.S. in 2016.

The most at-risk groups for pedestrian accidents are older adults and children. In 2016, one in every five children younger than 15 who were killed in traffic accidents were pedestrians.


Children who are between the ages of one and four have the highest drowning rates. Among children 1 to 14 who died from an unintentional injury in 2014, one-third was the result of drowning.

Most of these drownings occurred in home swimming pools.

Drownings are responsible for more deaths among children in the age group of one to four than anything aside from birth defects.

Deadly drownings are the second-leading cause of unintentional accident-related deaths behind only automobile crashes.

Some of the factors that contribute to accidental drownings among children include a lack of supervision and a lack of barriers, as well as a lack of swimming skills.

Parents should practice vigilant supervision and follow water safety guidelines. For example, parents should always supervise children near water and should get swimming lessons for their children at an early age.

If you have a pool or spa at your home, it should have the appropriate fencing surround it as well as alarms on the doors leading to the pool and a water alarm.

Parents should also learn CPR as should childcare providers.


Suffocation is a risk for children and especially babies, in many cases. For babies, since they can’t raise their heads very easily, parents should take steps to help keep them safe from suffocation.

With babies, some ways to prevent suffocation include:

  • Don’t place a baby face-down on any soft surface
  • Take any soft materials out of a baby’s bed or crib including blankets, stuffed animals or pillows
  • Don’t use plush crib bumpers, or maybe avoid bumpers altogether
  • Make sure your baby’s mattress is a good fit for their crib to reduce the risk of them being stuck between it and the sides of the crib
  • Don’t co-sleep with your baby in your bed

For older children, keep all plastic bags away from children. Keep uninflated balloons away from children as well, and keep any inflated balloons out of a child’s reach.

Accidents involving children are tragic, but many can be prevented. Knowing certain situations to avoid and how to deal with specific situations can help reduce the likelihood of your child being injured or killed in an accident situation.

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