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More Than Half of SIDS Deaths May Be Preventable

From The National Institutes of Health

Saying that more than 50 percent of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) mortality may be preventable if babies are placed to sleep on their sides or backs, HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala today announced that deaths due to SIDS fell 30 percent between 1992 and 1995. She said the reduction in SIDS deaths has contributed significantly to an historic low infant mortality rate in the United States.

Secretary Shalala credited the public-private 'Back to Sleep' campaign with bringing about the improvement in SIDS mortality, and she said all parents need to hear the message: "Babies should be placed to sleep on their sides or on their backs, but not on their stomachs."

Shalala announced that SIDS deaths declined from 4,891 in 1992 to 3,279 in 1995, according to preliminary HHS data. This includes a 12 percent drop in 1994 and an 18.5 percent drop in 1995, the largest annual declines ever observed in the U.S. and the only large declines observed in two consecutive years. Further, SIDS has dropped from 2nd to 3rd leading cause of infant mortality, behind both low birth weight and congenital anomalies.

The SIDS decline also accounted for about one-third of the total drop in infant mortality for the country in 1995. Infant mortality declined 6 percent in that year, to an all-time low rate for the U.S. of 7.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, according to data released by HHS last week.

"This is a real cause for celebration. Because of our success in reducing SIDS, there were some 1,600 fewer deaths in 1995 than in 1992," Secretary Shalala said. "That is a very rapid improvement, and there's every reason to believe that the 'Back to Sleep' campaign has made the difference."

The 'Back to Sleep' campaign recommends that babies be placed on their backs or sides to sleep, which significantly reduces the risk of SIDS. This recommendation, made by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1992, is the backbone of the HHS campaign, initiated in 1994 by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of the National Institutes of Health.

While 70 percent of infants were stomach sleeping in 1992, only 29 percent were doing so in 1995, according to Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the NICHD. "We believe that if the 'Back to Sleep' campaign succeeds in reaching its goal of less than 10 percent stomach sleeping, we can reduce SIDS deaths by more than 50 percent," Dr. Alexander said.

The 'Back to Sleep' campaign is sponsored by a coalition of federal agencies including NICHD and HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration, along with the AAP, the SIDS Alliance, and the Association of SIDS Program Professionals.

Prior to the campaign, approximately 5,000 to 6,000 infants died unexpected and unexplained SIDS deaths in the U.S. each year, making it the leading cause of death from 1 month to 1 year of age. Recent NICHD-sponsored studies have identified defects in the brain regions of SIDS infants that control breathing. "However, until the physiology is well understood and treatments are developed, this simple, cost-effective message of back-sleeping will save many lives," Dr. Alexander said.

"It's important for every new parent and every caretaker of infants to understand this message," Secretary Shalala said. "This is an effort we can all make to help save thousands of babies who may be susceptible to SIDS."

NICHD makes 'Back to Sleep' materials available via a 'Back to Sleep' home page on the Internet World Wide Web.

NICHD also distributes free publications on reducing the risk of SIDS, including a brochure for parents, a simplified-language brochure in both English and Spanish, and a brochure for healthcare professionals. Materials can be ordered by phone from 1-800-505- CRIB, or from NICHD/Back to Sleep, 31 Center Drive, MSC2425, Room 2A32, Bethesda, Md. 20892-2425.


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