A bill needs your support!How parents can help prevent choking

Last month, 3-year-old Deonte Riley choked on popcorn while on a family movie outing. A tragedy that touches the heart of every New York City parent. Choking on food items is a major cause of death among youngsters. How can you help make a difference? ELIZABETH MILLER reports on a bill currently before Congress, which needs your help!

Popcorn, peanuts, hot dogs and Cracker Jacks. These foods, along with candy and chunks of fruits and vegetables, present the greatest choking risks for children.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate over 17,000 children under the age of 14 are treated in emergency rooms for choking nationwide each year. Sixty percent is due to food; 10 percent of the choking resulted in death. What can be done about this completely preventable health risk?

Enter Bill #2773, the Food Choking Prevention Act of 2003. Michael Honda, a Democrat from California, and Michael Ferguson, a Republican from New Jersey, introduced it to Congress in July 2003. It moved swiftly to the subcommittee on health — where it has been since. Here's what it does: First, it requires warning labels on the foods that pose the greatest risk. Right now, only a small fraction of hot dog manufacturers choose to reveal their food's potential danger. Next, the Office of Choking Hazard Evaluation, under the watch of the Food and Drug Administration, can recall any food that appears to be an exceptional and "unacceptable" choking risk. They will do this by establishing a Choking Hazard Evaluation Task Force to come up with criteria for making a food an intolerable health hazard. The task force will get its information from a national database set up to record food choking incidents.

Finally, to reach the public, the bill will focus on prevention through education. Health care providers will be the teachers. They will give out educational materials on food choking hazards and how to prevent them. And, during a week-long awareness campaign named "National

Child Food Choking Prevention Week", there will be demonstrations of lifesaving techniques.

The bill comes up short in two areas: one, addressing how to handle foods without packaging. Fruits and vegetables are bought without labels. And two, providing education for the consumer. The suggested labeling does not include how to cut foods safely. Research shows that if hot dogs are cut lengthwise into quarters and then into small pieces after removing the skin, the choking risk is minimized.

If you find this bill compelling, there are several ways you can move it along. You can write to your state elected officials, requesting they support the bill. And you can sign a petition by logging onto www.gopetition.com and entering 2773 as the keyword.