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Understanding parent and caregiver perceptions of paediatric vehicular hyperthermia: implications for public health messaging from a pilot study.

BACKGROUND: Paediatric vehicular hyperthermia (PVH) is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle-related death of children in the USA. Public health messaging is an important mitigation strategy, yet it is difficult to assess the effectiveness in reducing deaths. Here, we seek to better understand parent/caregiver perceptions on PVH to guide risk communication.

METHODS: This pilot study focuses on a subset of participants (n=127) from a national survey, comprising parents/caregivers who met specific eligibility criteria (ie, those who both drive and have children ≤5 years of age). Survey participants answered questions about the perceived severity of forgetting a child in a hot car and their susceptibility to doing so, with responses recorded on a 7-point Likert scale (1=strongly disagree and 7=strongly agree).

RESULTS: Our findings indicate that while on average (mean responses of 2.45 and 2.49) parents/caregivers did not consider themselves susceptible, they did acknowledge the severity (mean response of 6.12) of leaving a child unattended in a vehicle. The results suggest that because of this low perceived susceptibility, parents/caregivers are less likely to take protective actions aimed at preventing these incidents from happening.

CONCLUSIONS: Public health messaging on PVH should emphasise the universal risk to all parents/caregivers so as to foster greater awareness of the need to take protective actions. Furthermore, engaging secondary audiences such as teachers and healthcare professionals can amplify this message and offer concrete behavioural interventions to mitigate the risk of forgetting a child in a car.

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