By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The accidental death rate among children and teenagers in the United States dropped 29 percent over a decade, as far fewer died in auto crashes despite more killed by suffocating in bed or prescription drug overdoses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Monday.
The federal health agency cited the increased use of booster seats, tougher driver's license requirements and safer cars for the 41 percent drop in deaths from auto accidents for those aged 19 and under from 2000 to 2009.
But auto accidents remain the leading cause of accidental deaths in that age group, with 4,564 deaths reported in 2009, nearly half of the 9,143 fatal accidents that year involving children and teens.
Overall, the accidental death rate for those below the age of 20 fell to 11 per 100,000 in 2009 from 15.5 per 100,000 in 2000. Among the states, death rates for children and teenagers ranged from four per 100,000 in Massachusetts to 25.1 per 100,000 in Mississippi.
"This variation is important because it demonstrates what is possible," CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias said during a teleconference. "Most of these deaths are predictable and preventable."
Death by drowning, burns and falls dropped significantly during the 10-year study period, the CDC said.
But poisoning deaths increased, nearly doubling among those ages 15 to 19, in part because of growing abuse of prescription drugs, the CDC said.
Abuse of prescription pain killers is increasing among teens just as it is in the adult population, said Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a CDC epidemiologist.
The agency reported a big jump in the number of children aged 1 or younger who died of suffocation, with 907 infants suffocating in 2009, up from 506 a decade earlier.
Parents can help prevent infant suffocation by ensuring that babies sleep in safe cribs and are on their backs with no loose bedding or soft toys, Gilchrist said.
(Editing By Colleen Jenkins and Philip Barbara)