Instant noodles are cause of 31% of childhood burn injuries, study reveals

ByZoe Sottile, CNNWire
Saturday, February 11, 2023

Instant noodles account for almost a third of childhood burn injuries, according to a study published by researchers at the University of Chicago.

The study, published in the journal "Burns" by a group of researchers at the university's burn center, examined data regarding all pediatric patients who were admitted with scald injuries caused by hot liquids between 2010 and 2020.

Of the 790 total cases of childhood scald injuries, 31% were caused by instant noodles.

"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, assistant professor of surgery at University of Chicago Medicine, in a news release. "Our hope is to develop the groundwork for future burn prevention programming, as essentially all childhood burns are in some way preventable."

Vrouwe said he and his team did not expect instant noodles to be such a significant cause of childhood burns.

"We were surprised by the sheer magnitude of the problem, which confirmed that focused effort and awareness on these types of burns could have a significant impact in the communities that our burn center serves," he said in the release.

The study also found certain children were more likely to experience burns from instant noodles than others. On average, the patients with instant noodle burns were more likely to be Black and to be from ZIP codes with a lower average childhood opportunity index score.

The researchers linked the trend to the fact instant noodles are a low-cost meal option. Because of the link, "global efforts to address childhood poverty would very likely have positive secondary effects on burn prevention," wrote the researchers.

Children with burns from instant noodles were also slightly older than children with other burn injuries, with an average age of 5.4 years. The researchers described it as "the age at which children are able to attempt to prepare instant noodles, but not old enough to do so safely." The children were also more likely to have been unsupervised at the time of the injury.

In the news release, Vrouwe explained adult supervision is an essential preventive measure for reducing burns from instant noodles and other foods.

"Direct caregiver supervision is one important step in burn prevention," he said. "The amount of heat contained in these noodles can easily cause second- and third-degree burns in anyone, but young children are particularly vulnerable due to their relatively smaller bodies and thinner skin."

Kyran Quinlan, a pediatrician who has conducted research on childhood burn injuries, told CNN via email it was "amazing how common this one mechanism of child scald is."

Quinlan, who did not contribute to the study, noted it only included patients admitted to the University of Chicago's Burn Center, which primarily serves a low-income community on the south side of Chicago. So while the findings might not be generalizable to the rest of the country, they do "tell a story quite common in the inner city areas across the country," he said.

Like Vrouwe, Quinlan also emphasized the importance of supervising young children using the microwave to prepare instant noodles or other foods.

"Young children cannot and should not operate a microwave without supervision," he said. He added the study could "help parents realize that these types of scalds happen all the time."

"Burn units around the country see this exact type of burn mechanism frequently," he pointed out.

Quinlan has advocated for "child-resistant" doors on microwaves, which he said are one measure to prevent burns among young children. The microwaves will be widely available for sale in the US starting in March, he said.

"We need to keep learning about what works to protect young children from these severe and often disfiguring scalds," he said.

CNN contributed to this report.