Doctor uses crowdfunding to launch anti-food choking campaign

UCLA Health article

One child dies every five days from choking on food in the United States 

Popcorn, hot dogs and grapes are among the favorite foods of many young kids, but did you know these foods can easily get lodged in a child's airway and cause choking accidents and death?

Dr. Nina Shapiro, professor of head and neck surgery and director of pediatric ear, nose and throat at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital, said that every time she treats a child for food choking, the terrified parent says the same thing, "If I had only known it was not safe, I would not have given it to my child!"

To help launch a public awareness campaign about foods that can cause choking, Shapiro is turning to UCLA Spark, a new online crowdfunding platform aimed at providing fundraising support for innovative projects underway at UCLA.

With the goal of raising at least $5,000, Shapiro will use the funds to jumpstart the EatSAFE project that will create educational print and website material to distribute to 10,000 or more families.

Shapiro, who is active on social media sites such as Twitter and has her own blog, was drawn to the idea of crowdfunding because it allows others to support the message behind the grass-roots campaign and feel like they are part of a bigger group that is making a difference.

"Unlike toys, foods are not labeled for safety," said Shapiro.  "Until we can obtain legislation to mandate that foods be labeled, it is my goal to provide better education and information to as many parents, caregivers, daycare centers and pre-schools about high-risks foods that should not be given to kids."

Shapiro noted that while many high-risk foods are healthy, the forms in which they are served put children in danger of choking.  Young children have underdeveloped swallowing mechanisms, immature teeth and narrow airways which put them at a higher risk.  Plus, the diameter of a child's airway is about the size of their pinky, so high-risk foods can easily block their tiny airways and prevent their ability to breathe.  

Here are the facts:

  • One child dies every five days from a food choking accident.
  • Over 10,000 children visit emergency rooms each year from choking on food.
  • Choking is the fourth leading cause of accidental death in children under age 5.
  • The most common objects causing fatal choking in children under age 3 are food, not toys.
  • The most common cause of non-fatal choking accidents in children under age 5 is food, not toys.

The EatSAFE materials will offer life-saving information on foods to avoid, tips for prevention and what to do if a child starts choking.

UCLA Spark will host the crowdfunding campaign for 30 days from April 9 through May 8. Throughout the month, updates on the project's progress, including drafts of print materials and information on how to spot choking hazards, will be provided.

Follow the conversation on Twitter at #EatSAFE.

To learn more, watch a video and support the EatSAFE project, please visit  


Media Contact:
Amy Albin
(310) 794-8672
[email protected]

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Media Contact

Amy Albin
(310) 794-8672
[email protected]