High Powered Magnets: Why It’s Important to Put Kids First

Written by Rasa Rafie, OMS III

In the COVID era, I’ve found it challenging to get involved with extracurriculars that not only are impactful, but also filled with meaning and purpose for my own passions. Although many of the usual projects have been limited, such as conferences and clubs, there has been an explosion of new unique virtual experiences. These experiences have allowed me, as a trainee, to collaborate and train with some of the best pediatric physicians in the country, an experience that would otherwise not be possible without this ‘new era of medical education’.

Earlier this year, I was selected to be a part of the inaugural Trainees For Child Injury Prevention (T4CIP) class. This year-long training program was created to teach trainees public health approaches and community engagement to prevent child and adolescent injury and violence. Perhaps I’m biased, but I believe my trainee class in particular has some of the most talented individuals I’ve ever met: 62 participants in total, 44 institutions, across 23 states, all of us unified with the same goal, Injury Prevention.

Injury is the leading cause of death and acquired disability among children in the United States. It is a topic that is broad, ranging from car seat safety, to detergent pods, to gun violence. It is also a topic that is preventable. This is my “WHY”. As a future pediatrician, one of the biggest responsibilities I hold is to advocate for my patients to live the happiest and healthiest lives they can live and to reach their utmost potential. I believe my role as their advocate is both in the clinic, but also in state and national legislature. This is how I can ensure that changes in policy not only affect the children of today, but the future of children as an entire population.

In collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Injury Research and Policy, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, our #T4CIP group has been preparing diligently for two Days of Action: Wednesday, May 19 and Wednesday, Oct 27. The First Day of Action on May 19th is right around the corner and will be focusing on High-Powered Magnets.

Most of us have several types of magnets laying around our house. The most common magnets are the traditional “refrigerator” Ferrite magnets and the newer “rare earth” or “high-powered magnets”. Although both pose risk for aspiration and ingestion, these newer high-powered magnets are 3-30x more powerful than traditional magnets and are now being marketed in all sorts of household items, children toys, and building sets. These small (<5mm), colorful, and shiny magnets have everything they need to appeal to younger children. After all, children experience the world by touching and you guessed it – eating/tasting most things!

As a future pediatrician, this is concerning to me. In 2018 alone, the National Poison Data System reported over 75,000 calls for foreign body exposures in children younger than 12 years old. These calls were often in our most vulnerable children, such as those younger than 5 years old or those with developmental delays. Even more startling is how often this occurs. Prior to 2012, it was estimated that there were more than 16,000 magnet ingestions, including several deaths. The greatest spike was in 2009-2011, the same time that the ‘high-powered magnet’ craze began in children’s toys. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled these products in 2012 and banned them in 2014. Unfortunately, since the ban was lifted in 2017, the number of ED cases has increased dramatically – going up 444% in 2018-2019.

When a child ingests a magnet, they come to our emergency departments with abdominal pain, vomiting, and fever. This raises a new set of challenges as this constellation of symptoms is vague and already common in the ED: stomach flu? Constipation? Food poisoning? This can lead to delayed prognosis and care which can be the difference between life and serious injury or death. These high-powered magnets are so powerful that when more than one is ingested, the two magnets can attract to one another even through tissue and organs, leading to bowel twisting, perforation, sepsis, and even death.

What You Can Do:

If this story, or this blog post, spoke to you in any way, you can support #T4CIP and help in our advocacy efforts on May 19th during our Day of Action for High-Powered Magnets in the following ways.

  1. Join us for a Twitter Chat on May 19th at 1-2 PM ET
  2. Join @CIRPatNCH on Twitter, they will be hosting the Twitter Chat and posting lots of helpful resources. Follow along with the chat by searching #MagnetSafety
  3. Share your story using #MagnetSafety – what is your WHY?
  4. Share your support for the T4CIP team by using the hashtag #T4CIP and #MagnetSafety
  5. Contact your congressional leaders and encourage them to sign the Magnet Prevention Injury Act
  6. Encourage families to keep these out of the home, especially those with younger children!

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