SIDS Deaths Reach New Record Low in 1997, but Disparities Persist for Minority Communities

For Release: Thursday, October 22, 1998


Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) declined another 12 percent to a record low level in the United States in 1997. However, more efforts are needed to encourage back sleeping for infants to reduce the risk of SIDS, and there is a special need to inform minority communities about back sleeping, Mrs. Tipper Gore said today.

SIDS deaths in 1997 among babies in their first year of life totaled 2,705, down from 3,050 in 1996 and a reduction of 42.3 percent since 1992, according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics. However, African-American babies are 2.4 times more likely than Caucasian babies to die of SIDS, and Native American babies are 2.8 time more likely to die of SIDS.

“Despite the dramatic success we’ve had in reducing SIDS, it is still the leading cause of death among babies from one month to 11 months old,” said Mrs. Gore, who has been a leader in the campaign to encourage back sleeping for babies. “The number of SIDS deaths are at the record low levels. But it’s clear that we need to do even more to ensure that every adult charged with taking care of a baby knows the importance of placing babies on their back for sleeping.”

In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all healthy babies be put to sleep either on their back or side to reduce the risk of death from SIDS. In 1994, a national “Back to Sleep” education campaign was launched. At the same time, October was designated “SIDS Awareness Month.”

A 10-state report released today by HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that messages about back sleeping may still not be reaching minority communities.

Today’s report analyzes population-based data on the usual infant sleeping position for 1996 births race from states participating in the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System: Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Maine, New York, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia.

The report, published in the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” finds that black mothers were more likely (11% to 54% higher) than white mothers to put their babies to sleep on their stomach. Among black mothers, the percentages ranged from 22.5% in Washington to 42.1% in Florida, among white mothers from 16.1% in Maine to 30.5% in Oklahoma.

Data for American Indians in two states, Washington and Oklahoma, indicate that 16.0% and 33.9% of respondents reported usually putting their baby down to sleep on their stomach. The comparable percentage for Alaskan Natives was 23.5%.

The percentage of respondents who reported usually putting their babies to sleep on their stomach varied by state from 16.0% to 30.8%. In most states, most respondents usually put their babies to sleep on their side, which is safer than the stomach sleep position but not as safe as the back sleep position. In five southern states, the prevalence of the stomach sleep position was about twofold higher than in the states having the lowest percentage (Maine and Washington). The percentage of respondents who reported putting their babies to sleep on their back was the highest in Washington (42.9%) and Alaska (40.8%) and lowest in Georgia (24.5%), Florida (25.4%), and South Carolina (25.8%).

The “Back to Sleep” campaign is led by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of HHS’ National Institutes of Health, working with a number of public and private sector partners. Efforts have been aimed at parents, grandparents, and health care professionals, as well as state agencies. Gerber Products has also been a corporate sponsor of the campaign.

Messages targeted at minority audiences are being expanded. The campaign is in the final production stages for a new minority outreach video and public service announcements to be available at the end of this year.

Distribution plans are underway targeting areas with the highest minority SIDS rates, especially Native Americans and African Americans. The campaign is also conducting focus groups to examine why certain populations are not hearing the “Back to Sleep” message.

In addition, HHS’ Indian Health Service works with tribal governments and others to reach mothers with information about child care including back sleeping.

HHS spending on SIDS research and outreach efforts will be about $50 million in FY 1999, up from $47 million in FY 1998 and $44 million in FY 1997.

The national goal of the “Back to Sleep” campaign is to reduce the percentage of infants put to sleep on their stomach to 10 percent or less by the year 2000. About 24 percent of infants in the U.S. are now put to sleep on their stomach.

“Continued support and expansion of the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign is needed to close the gap and reach our goals for American’s babies,” Mrs. Gore said. “Back sleeping is a proven way to reduce the risk of SIDS. During SIDS Awareness Month and every month, we must be sure that we get the word out to every parent and caregiver, especially those populations that are clearly not being reached now.”

Free “Back to Sleep” materials are available in English and Spanish from 1-800-505-CRIB or from NICHD/Back to Sleep, 31 Center Drive, Room 2A32, Bethesda, MD 20892-2425. A “Back to Sleep” at the NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development websiteexternal icon.


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