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Web advice on safe infant sleep, other things often wrong

Published: Thursday, Aug. 16 2012 5:57 p.m. MDT

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Parents who comb the Internet for advice to keep their babies safe and healthy may be mislead, according to a new study that says nearly 40 percent of advice on safe infant sleep is wrong.

The researchers, from the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., University of South Carolina School of Medicine and George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, found that of 931 relevant websites that offer advice on infant sleep position and sleep surface, only 61 percent agreed with counsel from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

"We were not that surprised, since everyone knows a lot of information on the Web is wrong," Dr. Rachel Y. Moon, one of the researchers, told Reuters. "But we wanted to quantify what we suspected to be true."

According to the study, 59 percent of Americans use Internet searches to get health information, including heavy use by parents searching for information to keep their children healthy. To help quantify the disconnect between accurate and inaccurate information, the researchers used the 2011 recommendations on safe infant sleep from the American Academy of Pediatrics, comparing it to what they found online.

The recommendation is that infants always be placed to sleep on their backs on a firm crib mattress, with no soft objects nearby. The guidelines were designed to reduce death from sudden infant death syndrome, suffocation, strangulation and other causes, and have been credited with cutting SIDS deaths by more than half since 1994. But the Centers for Disease Control says 2,500 infants still die of SIDS each year, most between 2 and 4 months old.

The researchers compared those AAP guidelines with what they found on sites identified by use of 13 search phrases created to reflect the recommendations.

Of 1,300 website results, the researchers wrote that 43.5 percent provided accurate information, 28.1 percent inaccurate information and 28.4 percent information that had nothing to do with infant sleep safety. When the latter were excluded, 60.8 percent provided accurate information. The search phrases leading to more online sites with accurate information were "infant cigarette smoking," "infant sleep position" and "infant sleep surface." Those with the highest level of inaccurate information came with searches for "pacifier infant," "infant home monitor" and "infant co-sleeping."

Study authors noted that government and organizational websites had the highest percentage of accurate information. Blogs, retail product reviews and personal websites had the highest percentage of inaccurate information about infant sleep safety. Blogs, for instance, were accurate just 31 percent of the time. News websites were accurate about half the time.

The researchers said health-care providers should give new parents a list of current websites that accurately reflect AAP recommendations.

A SIDS researcher from the University of California San Diego, Dr. Henry F. Krous, who had no part in the study, offered tips to Reuters. Among other things, he recommends parents "go the next step and confirm" the information found online with your health provider.

Moon suggested "steering clear" of websites that offer information as part of an effort to sell infant products. Of those they found, 29 percent gave inaccurate information.

A number of websites offer health information. Among the most consistently cited and reputable, each recommended by multiple sources, are healthfinder.gov, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; familydoctor.org, from the American Academy of Family Physicians; cdc.gov, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; webmd; ama-assn.org, from the American Medical Association; and generalhealthtopics.com.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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