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Be Well

SIDS prevention campaign slowed by unfounded fears

December 14, 2009

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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the leading cause of death in babies after the newborn stage. It has been strongly linked to the position a baby is placed in for sleeping, and SIDS deaths have dropped dramatically since introduction of the “Back to Sleep’’ campaign in 1994 to encourage caregivers to put babies on their backs. But the proportion of babies sleeping on their backs has plateaued since 2001 at about 71 percent.

To find out why, researchers led by Dr. Eve Colson of Yale analyzed data from a yearly national telephone survey. Starting in 1993 and continuing until 2007, about 1,000 caregivers of babies up to 7 months old were asked which way their babies slept, whether their doctors gave them advice on the subject, and if they worried about comfort or choking, among other questions. For most babies, fears of choking are unfounded, the researchers said.

They found that fears of discomfort and choking, along with physician advice, made a difference. Mothers who did not report worries about their babies choking were five times more likely to place babies on their backs to sleep than mothers with this concern. Mothers who did not say comfort was an issue were four times as likely to put their babies on their backs. The one-third of mothers who said their doctors told them to place their babies on their backs were three times as likely to do so as other women.

BOTTOM LINE: The proportion of babies put to sleep on their back as a way to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has plateaued at 71 percent, perhaps because of some caregivers’ unfounded concerns about their babies’ comfort or choking.

CAUTIONS: Telephone surveys might underrepresent minority or low-income families and might not reflect actual behavior.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, December

ELIZABETH COONEY

Lead exposure linked to depression risk

The presence of lead in the blood - even at what health officials say is a safe level - is associated with an increased risk of depression and panic disorder in young and middle-age adults, according to a new study. Harvard University researchers found that people with a blood lead level of 2.1 micrograms per deciliter or higher were more than twice as likely to have depression and nearly five times more likely to have a panic disorder than those with the lowest blood lead levels, 0.7 micrograms per deciliter or lower.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter in children warrant action, but some studies point to health risks at levels far below that, said Maryse Bouchard, lead author of the study and a research fellow at Harvard and a scientist at the University of Montreal. “We were surprised to see such a significant effect at such low blood lead levels,’’ she said.

Bouchard and her colleagues examined data from 1,987 people, ages 20-39, who, between 1999 and 2004, underwent a medical exam, blood test, and interview about their mental health as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

BOTTOM LINE: Adults with higher blood lead levels have a higher risk of depression and panic disorder - even when the amount of lead exposure is considered safe.

CAUTIONS: Depression and panic disorder can be genetic and often are the result of long-term stressors. More information on long-term lead exposure is needed.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Archives of General Psychiatry, December 2009

KELLI WHITLOCK BURTON