Everyone knows that child safety seats and booster seats, when used according to manufacturer’s guidelines, help protect children in the event of an accident. But are overweight children as safe as those of normal weight? That was the question asked by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
"Given that nearly 32 percent of children in the United States are categorized as overweight or obese, and motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for all children, we wanted to better understand how these two threats to children's health interact," explained lead author Mark Zonfrillo, MD, MSCE, an attending emergency physician at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "This research should reassure parents that their only concern when it comes to car seat safety should be to follow the most recent guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics."
The study examined almost 1,000 children from 1 to 8 years of age, who had been correctly placed in the booster seat or child safety seat appropriate for their height and weight at the time they were involved in an accident. They found no increased risk of injury for heavier children, suggesting the range of seats currently on the market cover a sufficiently large range of body sizes. Detailed results of the study can be found online in the December issue of Pediatrics.
According to the most recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should stay in a rear-facing seat for at least the first two years, unless they’ve already reached the height and weight limits. Children in forward facing seats with a five-point harness should also continue to use them as long as they’re below the height and weight limits. Larger children can be moved to a booster seat. They should not be allowed to sit without a safety seat until they’re at least 4’9’’ tall. Nor should they be allowed to sit in the front.
Zonfrillo, himself the father of a toddler, adds, "A good time to re-evaluate child safety seat needs is during your child's routine medical visits. Compare your child's weight and height measurements to the manufacturer's acceptable ranges on the seat's labels or instructions. There's no 'one-size-fits-all.' If your older child moved to a booster seat at age 5, don't necessarily assume it will be the same for his or her younger siblings."
There’s more information on how to keep your children safe in the car on The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website. Your local children’s hospital or police station may offer clinics that check to make sure your car seat is installed correctly.