What Are Your Child's Odds Of Choking To Death On A Hot Dog?

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:

hot dogs are a threat to our children

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.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. delurking says

    You missed an important sentence: "About 17% of food-related asphyxiations are caused by hot dogs."

    That is 17% of the 77, or ~13.

  2. whomever says

    You are overstating the odds. The cited article states "and up to 77 die, … About 17% of food-related asphyxiations are caused by hot dogs." 77*.17=13.09.

    The "up to 77 die" makes me suspect that 77 was carefully cherry picked as well.

  3. says

    I've always cut hotdogs lengthwise before giving them to younger kids. I foresee a nice little marketing campaign for skinny (toddler) hotdogs, they've created a great gimmick for Oscar Meyer here.

  4. says

    Well, if the kids would just stop entering those stupid hot-dog-eating contests, things would go much better.

    I object to people getting alarmed about hot dogs without getting panicked about grapes. Kids love to swallow grapes whole. I have personally Heimliched a kid choking on a grape — for a terrifying rate of approximately 100% of male children of my groomsmen. If we can engineer Frankencorn, can't we engineer grapes to be teensy-tiny?

  5. says

    "“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” – Nonsense! It would, at the very least, have backwards-facing spikes.

  6. says

    The "perfect plug?" Yet another marketing opportunity. There's nothing magical about the current shape of a hot dog, as opposed to a grape which by sheer misfortune of nature, grows that way. Make 'em bigger. Make 'em smaller. Make 'em any darn way someone will buy them. They're hot dogs, for crying out loud. Those little cocktail ones are cute as the dickens.

  7. says

    I just got back from Vienna.

    In Vienna, they call hot dogs "Frankfurters". But in Frankfurt, they call them "Weiners". Go figure.

    In any event, I can assure you that the Viennese children are smart enough not to choke on hot dogs. Or maybe it's their now-acceptable way of eugenically purifying their race, by eliminating the stupid.

  8. says

    "In Vienna, they call hot dogs “Frankfurters”. But in Frankfurt, they call them “Weiners”. Go figure."

    Is this true? All the stands I went to in Vienna (to the tune of about 2 a day*) called their foodstuffs various types of -wursts. Except for one. That one they called "Hot Dog mit Kasekrainer," which translates into English as roughly "World's Tastiest Cheese Dog."

    *To paraphrase Will Farrell impersonating Harry Caray: I love wurstel. I wish wurstels were like currency. A dozen of them would be like a nickel.

  9. Patrick says

    Well, the German name for Vienna is Wien, Mark, and so to call hot dogs "wieners" would feel odd. Like calling them "Coney Islands" in New York.

  10. says

    Patrick – I understand that part of it. I just don't recall the Viennese calling any wurstels "Frankfurters." The nomenclature I observed for a Frankfurter/Weiner-style sausage was usually the Americanized "Hot Dog," with a cheesey version of same being called a "Hot Dog mit Kasekrainer." Admittedly, I was only there for about four days, but in those four days I probably hit up a Wurstel Stand about twice a day.

  11. Dirk D says

    People from Wien are Wieners. Hotdogs are -wursts and occasionally frankfurters (if they are speaking to you in english).

  12. Bellevue Attorney says

    Anybody do a search to see how many kids while die experimenting with the use of bologna as a dental dam and accidentally inhale it? Maybe that oughtta be redesigned too