The rate of injuries to children on inflatable bouncers increased fifteenfold from 1995 to 2010, according to a report published today in the journal Pediatrics.
The moonwalks, slides and bounce houses are popular entertainment at young children's birthday parties and carnivals, but the toll they are taking on the young is "epidemic," says lead author Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
In 2010 alone, 30 children a day were treated for these injuries in hospital emergency rooms, the report says. The number of injuries increased to 11,311 in 2010 from 702 in 1995. Falls were the most common cause, followed by stunts and collisions. Smaller kids are a greater risk.
Also among the findings:
28 percent of the children under age 18 were treated at hospitals for fractures.
27 percent had strains or sprains.
19 percent had head and neck injuries.
Data for the study were obtained from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, operated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The injuries reported are similar to those from trampolines, but trampoline injuries are declining, Smith says, while the increase in injuries from inflatables is "astounding."
National safety guidelines exist for trampolines. The report calls for guidelines for inflatable bouncers, saying it is "clear that it is time."
Parents can take precautions when allowing children to use inflatables, says Stacey Palosky of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The agency recommends anchoring inflatable products and preventing older children from jumping at the same time as younger children.
The surface isn't as soft as it looks, Smith says. The report did not specify safety suggestions, but he says he would not allow children younger than 6 to play on inflatables. He also recommends adult supervision and rules preventing rough-housing or stunts such as flips or somersaults that can damage the spinal cord when the child lands on the back of his neck or head.
"We don't want to be alarmists, but parents need to balance the risks with the benefits," Smith says. "We need to encourage kids to get off the couch and have an active lifestyle, but parents can take informed steps to make the bouncers safer."