July 19, 2000 (Washington) -- More than half of all black babies are put to sleep in ways that may increase their risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to a new survey released today by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Overall, only 43% of parents put their infants to sleep on their backs, the survey found.
That disturbing finding has launched a new awareness campaign aimed at black parents, many of whom may be following potentially deadly advice from loving but misinformed mothers or grandmothers. Some 2,700 babies died from SIDS in the U.S. in 1998, and public health officials say black infants face twice the death risk from this mysterious condition as other children.
"There's an information gap that needs to be addressed. Until we close that gap, babies will continue to die unnecessarily," said CPSC chairman Ann Brown at a Wednesday news conference.
The survey, co-sponsored by Gerber Products Co., found that only 31% of black parents put their babies to sleep on their backs, the recommended way to reduce the chance of SIDS. That compares with 47% of white parents who followed the right approach at bedtime.
The key issue, according to the survey, is the source of information to the new parents. Among blacks, 56% learned about proper sleeping position from a family member, compared to just 24% for whites. However, nearly half of white parents got their advice about how to put a baby to bed from a doctor, compared to 22% for blacks. The poll of 500 parents was conducted earlier this year.
No one knows what causes SIDS, but many cases have been linked to suffocation. On that issue, the survey ominously points out that 85% of black parents say they keep soft bedding, such as quilts and comforters in the crib, contrary to the latest medical advice.
To get the word out, the "Safe Sleep" campaign materials will be distributed at 3,000 community health centers across the country that have predominately black clients. Baby showers emphasizing safety will also be part of the effort, as is special programming on Black Entertainment Television this fall. A public service announcement will show television viewers how baby can snooze safely.
Over the past decade, there has been some progress against SIDS, which claimed 5,000 lives in 1992. Even though the death rate has dropped 40%, black infants are still disproportionately affected. Many are poor and don't have access to health services that could provide help or at least information.
For example, the SIDS survey shows that 71% of blacks worry that putting a baby on its back will increase the risk of choking on vomit. Fewer than half of whites shared that concern.
"This disparity is outrageous and unacceptable, especially since we know that we can do something about it," said Assistant U.S. Surgeon General Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD.
The pediatrician laid some of the blame for these deaths on doctors. "Not only do they [doctors] have to know the information that's current ... but all of us have to be reminded that we need to talk about this with parents," said Gaston.
One black parent who got good advice is 24-year-old Nicky Smikle. She relied on her doctor for information about how to protect her 6-month-old daughter Joyia from SIDS. "I wasn't terrified. I knew that what I was doing was right, putting her on her back. No toys in the crib, no quilts," Smikle tells WebMD.
More information and safety tips about preventing SIDS can be found at www.cpsc.gov, the web site for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.