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Federal health officials have issued a warning about the dangers of the “choking game” after determining that at least 82 youths have died in the past 12 years from unintentional strangulation related to the practice.
The study, released this month by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, found that self-induced strangulation, or strangulation by another person as part of the game, had killed young people ages 6 to 19 between 1995 and 2007. Nearly 90 percent of the victims were boys, and the victims’ average age was 13.
The choking game is defined as self-strangulation or strangulation by another person with the hands or a noose to achieve a brief euphoric state, or high, caused by cerebral hypoxia. None of the deaths included incidents of autoerotic asphyxiation, the practice of choking oneself during sexual stimulation.
Federal officials compared deaths caused by the “choking game” with those attributed to suicide by young people who hanged or suffocated themselves.
SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
To estimate the number of deaths, the researchers relied on media accounts and Web sites that have been created to raise awareness about the dangers of the game. It is also known as the “blackout game,” the “pass-out game,” the “scarf game,” and “space monkey.”
Parents and educators, the CDC said, should be aware of the warning signs in young people: talk about playing such games; an appearance of disorientation after spending time alone; neck bruises, bloodshot eyes, or frequent, severe headaches; or ropes, belts, or scarves tied to bedroom furniture or found on the floor.
As choking-game incidents have drawn attention in recent years, some school administrators have sought to alert students and parents to the risks. Others have expressed concern that more publicity might inspire copycat behavior. (“‘Choking Game’ Yields Varying Responses From Educators,” June 7, 2006.)
The CDC released its findings Feb. 15 in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2008 edition of Education Week