Toys to avoid this Christmas

Two children's advocate groups have released their annual warnings about which toys to watch out for when shopping heading into the holiday season.

Choking on magnets, small parts still a top concern

Child advocates are warning parents to choose carefully when it comes to buying toys 1:58

Two children's advocate groups have released their annual warnings about which toys to watch out for when shopping heading into the holiday season.

The U.S. Public Research Interest Group looked at about 200 toys and determined two significant dangers: magnets and toxic toys.

"The leading toy killer for many, many years has been choking," said Ed Mierzwinski, the group's consumer program director.

Between 1990 and 2010, more than 400 children have died from toy-related injuries, according to the U.S. Public Research Interest Group, and more than half of them from choking.

Many children and teenagers — who sometimes try to use small magnets as temporary piercings — have choked on magnets, he said. Mierzwinski identified Buckyballs, sets of more than 200 small, shiny magnets, as a problematic example.

"These magnets make lousy gifts. Don’t buy them. Don’t buy them for older kids. Don’t buy them for parents," he said. "The kid is going to find them. How are you going to keep track of 216 magnets?"

When a child swallows several magnets, they can get stuck across the intestine, he said, and can result in "tragic, tragic gastrointestinal problems and even death." 

The company that manufactured Buckyballs has stopped making them, according to its website, because of an ongoing battle with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Toxic and excessively loud toys are also a concern. The authors of the report found one toy that exceeded the U.S.'s legal lead levels.

Tips for buying children's gifts

Mierzwinski is not a parent, but said he followed strict rules when shopping for the children in his life: no toys with small parts for youngsters. People need to use common sense when shopping for kids, he said.

He offered some tips for adults to keep in mind when shopping for children's gifts:

  • Bring an old toilet paper roll that measures 1½ - 1¾ inches in diameter. If a toy — or any of its removable parts — fit through the tube, do not purchase it for a child three years old or younger.
  • Beware of cheaply made, larger toys that can easily break into smaller parts.
  • When buying toys for families that have multiple kids, consider all their ages before buying a toy. While a toy may be appropriate for a seven-year-old, their two-year-old sibling could choke on its parts.
  • Be aware that age recommendations on toys are not about intelligence, but focus on safety. "Even smart two-year-olds put things in their mouth."
  • Stay away from "cheap, metal jewelry." If a child swallows it, the toxins can leach into their system.
  • To avoid toys that are potentially toxic, consider buying unpainted, wooden toys.
  • Don't buy latex balloons, which can break easily and become a choking hazard for children up to the age of eight. Mierzwinski recommends Mylar balloons as a safer alternative.

"We’re not trying to frighten people," he said. "We’re trying to make sure people are alert."

Online shopping requires more vigilance

Meanwhile, World Against Toys Causing Harm's list of this year's 10 worst toys includes toys with magnetic parts, and choking and strangulation hazards.

The group says consumers should be aware of extra safety hazards while online shopping.

Online shoppers face safety warnings and age recommendations that are sometimes inconsistent with the manufacturer's recommendations. Shoppers can also miss more obvious hazards because they can't touch and physically inspect the toy before purchasing it.