Every year, more than 5,100 American kids go to the hospital with injuries from falling out of windows, and a quarter of them are serious enough for the child to be admitted, according to the first nationwide study of the dreaded problem.
Over 19 years, researchers found, the rate has dropped only slightly.
"It really is nothing to take comfort in," said Dr. Gary Smith, who heads the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "We continue to see this problem, especially in younger kids, despite the fact that we know how to prevent it," added Smith, who led the new work.
Between 1990 and 2008, an estimated 98,415 kids under 18 were treated at hospitals for injuries they had sustained after falling out of a window. That's about 7.3 injuries per 100,000 children, Smith and his colleagues report in the journal Pediatrics.
Toddlers led the injury statistics, accounting for two-thirds of all cases. According to Smith, that's because they're curious, don't understand danger, and have a high center of gravity.
"As they lean over, their high center of gravity will make them topple," he explained. "They almost invariably land head-first."
Nearly half the children had damages to their heads or faces, but only two in 1,000 cases were fatal.
Most of the falls happened from the second floor.
"We need to look beyond the major cities," Smith said. "Most children don't live in high-rise apartments, they live in homes."
The way to prevent falls, he added, is to ensure that kids don't have access to a window, for instance by removing furniture they can climb to get there.
Another good idea is to install window guards or stops, which some cities have already mandated. In New York, for instance, the Health Code requires apartment buildings to install guards on all windows in households with kids under 11.
"Parents need to remember that window screens simply won't be enough," said Smith.
The findings are based on data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.