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- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Baby Walkers May Delay Children's Development

Reuters News

Although baby walkers get infants moving before they are able to on their own, this early locomotion may actually delay babies' physical and mental development, US researchers report.

The large trays on all newer-model walkers that protect a scurrying infant from accidents also prevent babies from seeing their legs as they move and from grasping objects around them. This deprives babies of the visual feedback that may help them learn to move through space, according to researchers led by Dr. Roger V. Burton, of the department of psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

In the October issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, the researchers report study results showing that babies who used newer-style walkers may be slower than other babies in reaching developmental milestones, including sitting up, crawling, and walking. These babies may also be delayed in the development of memory, learning, and language skills.

Studying 109 babies, the investigators found that while babies who used the newer walkers showed normal development, they sat upright, crawled and walked later than babies who never used a walker and those who used outdated walkers, which allow babies to see their legs and grasp objects. Babies who used new-style walkers, for example, took their first steps at 11.6 months, on average; no-walker babies and those with old-style, "see-feet" walkers began walking at ages 10.8 and 10.7 months, respectively.

On a standard test of mental development, no-walker babies had the highest average score, followed by babies who used "see-feet" walkers and those who used newer walkers.

The babies were initially tested at 6, 9 or 12 months of age, then again 3 months later. Since no baby was tested beyond 15 months, the researchers could not determine whether walker use could have long-term effects. "It is likely," they report, "that normal infants will catch up with their no-walker peers when they walk and are no longer restricted by being put into a walker."

In addition, while Burton's team did factor in parents' education, other factors that could influence a baby's development, such as the parents' occupation and social class, were not studied. Nearly all families in the study were white and middle-class.

However, the authors note, other investigators have found that in developmentally-challenged babies, babies born prematurely and very young infants, walkers may be particularly likely to cause problems with balance and alignment.

And besides the evidence of developmental delays with walker use, there is a growing consensus that the devices pose a safety hazard, according to the report. The study authors cite a 1994 report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission that held baby walkers responsible for more injuries than any other children's product.

Since 1995, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has maintained that there should be a "ban on the manufacture and sale of mobile infant walkers in the US." In light of the new study findings, the AAP is also stressing that parents should be made aware of the "lack of benefits" to walker use. Taken together, the investigators conclude, the evidence on baby walkers suggests their use is "ill-advised."


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