Seen the Nationwide Super Bowl Ad? Here Are True Numbers of Child Accidents

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According to a statement from Nationwide, the purpose of the company’s controversial Super Bowl ad was “to start a conversation, not sell insurance.”

If this is true, then kudos: Building awareness of preventable child injuries is a goal that our law firm has been dedicated to for many years. In this article, we hope to add to the dialogue by taking a closer look at child accident statistics.

But first, let’s talk about that Nationwide Super Bowl ad. If you haven’t seen the 45-second commercial, which aired during the second half of Super Bowl XLIX on February 1, here it is:

The commercial is admittedly powerful, featuring a young boy who won’t be able to grow up and experience life’s joys “because I died from an accident.”

The most striking image in the commercial is a bath tub overflowing with water. Text is imposed on the image that reads, “The number one cause of childhood deaths is preventable accidents.”

As USA Today notes, the ad carried a fear-inducing, depressing tone that seemed to many to be shockingly out of place in the context of the Super Bowl. Viewers expecting to see a silly car commercial or goofy beer ad clearly were jarred by it and quickly took to social media to express their reactions.

In response, Nationwide issued a statement in which it sought to clarify the ad’s purpose, stating:

“Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don’t know that. … While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.”

Politifact: Nationwide’s Claim About Child Injuries Is ‘Mostly True’

While media outlets such as USA Today have gauged parents’ reaction to the Nationwide Super Bowl ad and focused on whether it was effective – a Georgetown University marketing professor told the newspaper that fear-based ads can motivate viewers – Politifact honed in on its accuracy.

Based on its analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data and other sources, Politifact rated the ad to be “Mostly True,” finding that it was “accurate but needs some clarification or additional information.”

As Politifact explains, the CDC tracks leading causes of death. “Unintentional injury” is one category of causes, and it includes sub-categories such as suffocation, drowning, falls, burns and motor vehicle accidents. Another category is “congenital anomalies,” or birth defects.

Politifact found that among infants (younger than age 1), the leading cause of deaths actually is birth defects, with unintentional injury being the top cause of death for all other age groups through age 14.

However, Politifact rejected Nationwide’s claim in its statement that “preventable injuries around the home” are the leading cause of child deaths.  In reality Politifact noted the leading cause is motor vehicle accidents.

A Closer Look at Child Accident Numbers

We decided to take a closer look at the CDC’s accident numbers, using data from the most recent year for which those figures are available: 2013.

We examined the leading causes of death for five age groups through age 19 and found that unintentional injury deaths outnumbered deaths due to birth defects:

Age Group Unintentional Injury Birth Defects
1-under 1,156 4,758
1-4 1,316 476
5-9 746 179
10-14 775 161
15-19 3,652 166
Total  7,645 5,740

We then looked at the leading causes of unintentional injury deaths across the same age groups. Our analysis of the CDC’s numbers showed that five causes of death accounted for 86.4 percent of these fatalities. The causes were:

Cause  1-under 1-4 5-9 10-14 15-19 Total Pct.
Motor Vehicle Traffic 66 327 342 414 2,338 3,487 45.6%
Suffocation 979 161 44 37 47 1,268 16.6%
Drowning 23 393 116 93 241 866 11.3%
Poisoning 6 29 9 21 587 652 8.5%
Fire/Burn 17 129 87 48 53 334 4.4%

As these numbers indicate, the risks that cause fatal injuries change as a child ages.  As children age and risks change, our discussion and our efforts to keep our children safe should change as well.

For instance, when a child is less than age 1, the focus should be on making sure the child is properly put to rest at home or at a day care.  Infant suffocation injuries can be caused by a child becoming trapped in a crib or caught between a mattress and wall. Parents and caregivers also have to pay close attention to what a child can reach because infants and very young children are inclined to put everything into their mouths.

However, once a child reaches the teen years and begins to drive, the focus for prevention should be on teaching good, safe habits to follow in a car – always wearing a seatbelt, never speeding, drinking or texting or using a phone while driving.

Additionally, the significant spike in poisoning injuries between the 10-14 and 15-19 age groups – from 21 to 587 – indicates a strong need to educate our teens about the dangers of controlled substances or misuse of prescription medications.

Leaving aside the debate about whether the timing of Nationwide’s commercial was appropriate, we do believe that awareness of the shifting accident and injury risks children face as they grow up is an important discussion and one that should be ongoing in the home and in public.

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