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Falling TVs send a child to the ER every 30 minutes

Children watching TV
Children under 5 are most at risk from TVs toppling over on them. All TVs, whether it’s a flat-screen or older model, should be anchored to the wall to prevent tip-overs, researchers urge.Chris Stein / Today

Enormous flat-screens are in millions of homes, but come with a risk that many parents may not realize: children can be seriously hurt in a TV tip-over.

The number of kids injured by a TV falling on them grew 125 percent between 1990 and 2011, according to a new study of emergency room records that calls for greater prevention efforts. Overall, more than 17,000 children under age 18 were treated each year for various TV-related injuries in ERs across the United States – that’s one child every half hour – during that time period, the study released Monday in the journal Pediatrics found.

Between 2000 and 2011, 215 children died from injuries caused by a falling TV.

“This is a serious problem,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Gary Smith, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told NBC News. “A child’s dying once every three weeks from a TV tip-over. The numbers are going up. This is a call to action. These are 100 percent preventable injuries.”

The increase is from a combination of more TVs in homes and a growing number of injuries from televisions falling from furniture that was not designed to hold them, Smith said. Forty-six percent of the tip-overs involved a TV falling off a dresser or armoire, while 31 percent were due to a TV falling from an entertainment center or TV stand, according to the study.

The rising number of injuries “dispels that myth that as flat-screens came onto the market, we would see a decline in TV tip-overs," Smith said. "We’re seeing the opposite.”

The new research used national data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, tracked from 1990 to 2011.

The lighter, top-heavy design of flat-screens could actually make them easier for a child to pull over, the study found.

The number of kids under age 18 who were injured specifically in a TV tip-over rose to 12,300 in 2011, a 125 percent increase in 22 years. The rate of injury from TV tip-overs increased 95 percent.

Children under the age of 5 were the most at risk -- accounting for 64 percent of the injuries -- because young kids can’t get out of the way as quickly as older children, Smith said. Almost 61 percent of the injured children were boys. Other than falling TVs, children were also hurt by striking or hitting the TV.

The head and neck were the most commonly injured body parts, Smith said, noting that injuries ranged from bruising to death. Other injuries included lacerations, fractures and sprains.

Some injuries are minor, but, “I have seen kids with major traumatic brain injuries as a result of this,” said Smith, a pediatric emergency medicine physician and president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance.

The study did not differentiate between injuries caused by falling flat-screen televisions and the older, heavier cathode ray tube sets. But Smith speculated that injuries may be increasing as families buy new TVs, and move older ones onto unsuitable furniture.

“What we think is going on is as families purchase a new flat-screen TV, the older TV is being displaced to other parts of the home where it’s placed in a less-safe position, such as on top of dresser, chest of drawers or armoire,” Smith said.

The study, he said, is a call for parents to secure their televisions and for a strengthening of stability standards for TVs. There are various products to make TVs safer – straps, Velcro, L braces and mounts for flat-screens.

“The overriding recommendation is that all TVs, whether it’s a flat-screen or CRT, must be anchored to the wall to prevent tip-overs and if it’s on a piece of furniture, the furniture needs to be anchored to the wall as well,” Smith said.

Parents are urged against putting the remote control or toys on top of the television or the furniture it sits on, so kids won’t try to climb up after them.

The Pediatrics study backs up previous research on the dangers of TV tip-overs. But the continued rise in injured children suggests many parents simply aren’t getting the message.

“I think a lot of people think it’s not going to happen to them,” said Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency physician at MESA Medical Group in Lexington, Ky., and spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Stanton, a father of two kids ages 3 and 5, said his own flat-screen TV is bolted to the wall and other televisions are secured as well.

“Everybody knows that after kids get to be 2 ½ years old, there’s nothing too high,” he said. “You have to look at it from the point of a child. Just grab it and pull, if it starts to tip over and is unstable, your kid’s going to do that, too.”

Tips from on how to stabilize any TV in your home:

  • Mount flat-screen TVs to the wall to prevent them from toppling off stands. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that you have a secure fit.
  • If you have a large, heavy, old-style cathode ray tube (CRT) TV, place it on a low, stable piece of furniture.
  • Use brackets, braces or wall straps

The Consumer Electronics Association has also developed a flyer on TV placement safety to be included in TV instruction manuals, according to its website.

NBC News associate producer Stacey Naggiar andsenior writer JoNel Alecciacontributed to this report