This Food Is Responsible for Nearly a Third of All Kids’ Burns

A review of kids’ hospitalizations at the University of Chicago Burn Center found one food behind 31 percent of hot liquid burns. Learn what it is and how to protect your child here.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Updated February 17, 2023
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Image: arrowsmith2 | Shutterstock

When you have little tykes running around the house and playing outside, it’s just not possible to always be everywhere at once and prevent something from going awry. Now a new study is helping parents identify a popular perpetrator when it comes to childhood burns so parents and pediatricians can work together to prevent them.

Recently published in the international medical journal Burns, doctors at the University of Chicago Medical Center reviewed thousands of childhood burn cases for kids under 18 to find the most common cause. Learn more about what they found and how to protect your child below.

What The Study Found

Taking data from hospitalizations from 2010 to 2020, researchers found that, of the 790 cases they reviewed, 31 percent or nearly one-third of children’s scald injuries were caused by instant noodles. Scald injuries, which are burns caused by hot liquids, can happen to anyone, but the risk of severe second and third-degree burns for children is higher due to their relatively smaller bodies and thinner skin. An estimated 100,000 kids suffer scald burns from food and beverage alone in the United States each year.

A low-cost, easily prepared microwaveable meal, Instant Noodles, which contains starchy liquid among their solid components, has been shown to lead to different burn patterns than hot water alone. According to the University of Chicago researchers, while slightly less severe than some other types of scald burns, instant noodle injuries are still dangerous, leading to burns that sometimes require hospitalization, surgery or skin grafting.

“Anecdotally, it felt like every other child we were consulted on for a burn was injured by instant noodles, so we wanted to dive into the data to see what the trend really was,” senior study author and assistant professor of surgery at UChicago Medicine. Sebastian Vrouwe, MD, said in a press release. “Our hope is to develop the groundwork for future burn prevention programming, as essentially all childhood burns are in some way preventable.”

How Kids’ Burns Often Happen

While the study itself did not explore the exact circumstances of instant noodle burn injuries, Vrouwe said the burn team has observed common patterns such as accidental spills when removing containers from the microwave, along with spills while eating due to the narrow bases of instant noodle cups.

“We were surprised by the sheer magnitude of the problem, which confirmed that focused effort and awareness on these types of burns could have a significant impact in the communities that our burn center serves,” he said.

Four Tips for Preventing Burns

While accidents happen, Vrouwe offers these four tips to help prevent scald burns.

  1. Supervise meal time. While parents can’t always be around, try to watch over meal time when possible. According to the study, 40 percent of instant noodle burns occurred when children were reported to be alone during the time of injury.
  2. Remove hot items from the microwave for your children. Spills can easily happen when grabbing flimsy noodle cups from the microwave. Make sure to remove hot liquids from the microwave and wait till they have cooled sufficiently before handing them to your child.
  3. Eat at the table. Make sure hot liquids are placed on a steady surface. Eating at the table instead of on a lap helps reduce burn risk.
  4. Turn down your hot water heater temperature. Lowering hot water heaters to 120 degrees Fahrenheit is one established way to prevent burns in the home.

Looking for more tips on keeping your child safe? Check out this comprehensive list of baby safety tips from car seat safety to sunscreen recommendations.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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