Overall rates of sudden unexpected infant death as well as accidental suffocation and other unexplained deaths declined sharply in the five years or so following a national campaign in 1994 to encourage caregivers to put babies to sleep on their backs, reports Katherine Hobson. But those rates have not budged since 2000. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that these changes were not uniform across racial and ethnic groups.
American Indians, Alaska Natives and African-Americans are much more likely to have an infant die suddenly and unexpectedly, despite public health efforts to prevent SIDS in the 1990s, says Hobson.
While it’s not possible to determine whether the public health campaign played a significant role in reducing death rates, Hobson points out, researchers are now looking into why rates among American Indians/Alaskan Natives and African-Americans remain so much higher than those of non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders.
Since the study didn’t control for socioeconomic or other factors, such as prenatal or postnatal exposure to alcohol or tobacco, disparities might also be influenced by other factors besides race and ethnicity, such as the prevalence of prenatal care, says Sharyn Parks, an epidemiologist and author of the study, published Monday in Pediatrics, or to biological risks, such as a brain abnormality seen in temporal lobe epilepsy that has been associated with sudden infant deaths.