Household poisoning exposure among children of Mexican-born mothers: an ethnographic study

West J Med. 1999 Jul;171(1):16-9.


Objective: To explore reasons for high rates of unintentional poisoning among Latino children under 5 years old.

Design: Ethnographic interviews were carried out using a sample of mothers identified via door-to-door canvassing in an area with documented high injury rates among Latino children. Interviews included many open-ended and follow-up questions to elicit a detailed family history and emphasized observation of conditions and behaviors in the homes.

Setting: Low-income neighborhoods of Southern California.

Subjects: Fifty mothers born in Mexico with children under 5 years old.

Results: Children were exposed to potential poisoning agents in more than 80% of homes. Contributory factors related to culture included favorable attitudes toward iron as a healthful substance; extensive use of products that lack child-resistant packaging, such as rubbing alcohol and medicines from Mexico; high prevalence of shared housing; limited familiarity with toxic household chemicals not widely used in Mexico; and inability to read warning labels in English.

Conclusion: Current Poison Control Center outreach efforts should be expanded. Clinicians are uniquely positioned to advise parents about the safe use and storage of toxic substances, including widely used products lacking child-resistant packaging. Medicines should be labeled in Spanish for those who do not know English.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • California
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Household Products / poisoning*
  • Humans
  • Mexican Americans / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology*