Objective. The current study was undertaken to describe patterns of kitchen burns and scalds to young children to understand better why such injuries continue to occur despite intervention efforts.

Methods. Emergency department–treated thermal burns and scalds associated with nonelectric cookware were examined from a national sample, collected by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's injury surveillance system over a 6-year period, 1997–2002. Data extracted from the cases included age, gender, body part, disposition, case weight, causal substance, and injury pattern. Data were analyzed using Epi Info 2002, with significance assessed by χ2 test.

Results. Scalds were approximately twice as common as were thermal burns. Hot water was the chief causal agent for scalds. The 2 most common scald injury patterns were (1) the child reached up and pulled a pot of hot water off the stove or other elevated surface and (2) the child grabbed, overturned, or spilled a container of hot water onto him- or herself. One-year-olds were at highest risk for scalds and thermal burns. Scalds resulted in significantly more hospitalizations than did thermal burns. In nearly all injury patterns, more boys than girls were injured, but the ratio varied depending on the injury pattern.

Conclusions. Although the kitchen is recognized as a room that is hazardous for young children, parents seem not to recognize or anticipate the risk for burns and scalds. The ability of children, especially toddlers, to reach containers of hot liquids on elevated surfaces is reflected in the injury data and is explained by anthropometry data, yet there is an apparent failure on the part of parents to recognize children's ability to gain access to the hazard and a failure to recognize the potential severity of resulting injury. These failures might explain why behavioral interventions (eg, place pots on back burners of stove) have been nonmotivating and ineffective. A multifaceted spectrum of prevention that has individual, community, and organizational components may prove to be more useful.

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