Study shows instant noodles major cause of childhood scald injuries

Image of hot instant noodles which are a common reason for pediatric scald burns

Instant noodle burns accounted for nearly a third of all pediatric scald admissions at the University of Chicago Medicine between 2010 and 2020, according to a new study published in the journal Burns.

The research team at UChicago Medicine’s Burn Center, which cares for both adults and children, reviewed the cases of all pediatric patients who were admitted with scald injuries caused by hot liquids between 2010 and 2020. Data collected included patient demographics, medical history, length of hospital stay, complications and procedures performed, among other metrics.

“Anecdotally, it felt like every other child we were consulted on for a burn was injured by instant noodles, so we wanted to dive into the data to see what the trend really was,” said senior author Sebastian Vrouwe, MD, assistant professor of surgery at UChicago Medicine. “Our hope is to develop the groundwork for future burn prevention programming, as essentially all childhood burns are in some way preventable.”

Of the 790 total cases reviewed by the team, 31% were attributed to instant noodles. Black/African American children and children who lived in areas with lower Childhood Opportunity Index (COI) scores were more likely to suffer these scald burns than their peers. Unsupervised children also faced higher risk: 40% of instant noodle burns occurred when children were reported to be alone during time of injury.

Even though the study only examined data from the South Side academic health system, researchers believe the statistics speak to a larger national issue given the prevalence of instant noodles, which are a low-cost, easy-to-prepare food.

Instant noodles, which contain starchy liquid among their solid components, have been shown to lead to different patterns of burns than hot water alone. While slightly less severe than some other types of scald burns, instant noodle injuries are still dangerous, leading to hospitalizations. Sometimes the burns can require surgery, including skin grafting.

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