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Tuesday, Oct. 26, 1999
Contact: Ruth Dubois or John McGrath
National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development
(301) 496-5133


HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala and Mrs. Tipper Gore today announced the start of a new component of the successful "Back to Sleep" campaign that will focus on reducing the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) among African Americans. The goal of the new initiative is to develop and implement a community-based approach to eliminate the disparity in SIDS rates affecting African American communities.

October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month.

"The Back to Sleep campaign has been a dramatic success and a valuable tool in our efforts to reduce the incidence of SIDS," Secretary Shalala said. "But, we must continue to work together to be sure that these effective strategies are reaching every community."

Led by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health, the campaign will be carried out by a newly created partnership with the National Black Child Development Institute, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the SIDS Alliance and the Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality Programs.

Although minority outreach has been a part of the "Back to Sleep" campaign since its inception, African American infants are 2.2 times more likely to die from SIDS than white infants. NICHD and its partners are committed to eliminating this disparity and the coalition will evaluate materials, talk to parents and caretakers about their concerns and knowledge about SIDS and make recommendations on the development of culturally sensitive messages and materials.

"All parents need to be aware of the increased incidence of SIDS during the winter season, and take appropriate steps to reduce their baby's risk," said Tipper Gore, who serves as the national spokesperson for the "Back to Sleep" campaign. "In addition to putting babies on their backs to sleep, everyone who cares for infants -- parents and other caretakers alike -- needs to be reminded to place the baby on a firm mattress in a crib free from blankets, toys or other soft products and to make sure the baby's head remains uncovered during sleep."

SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant in the first year of life. Recent research has identified almost undetectable defects in SIDS infants in a region of the brain that may control sensing of carbon dioxide, breathing and arousal during sleep. Researchers believe that the increase in SIDS during the cold winter months may be attributable to the greater risk of infection that infants face during the colder months or perhaps due to the "overbundling" or "overheating" of infants while sleeping during cold weather.

The "Back to Sleep" campaign is based on the AAP's recommendation made in 1992 to place infants on their backs or sides to sleep. In 1996, AAP revised its recommendation clarifying that placing babies to sleep on their backs provides the greatest protection against SIDS and is the preferred sleep position.

NICHD launched the "Back to Sleep" campaign in 1994 to amplify the message that placing infants on their backs to sleep can reduce the risk of SIDS and save lives. Since 1992 and the launch of the campaign there has been a steady decline in the percentage of babies sleeping on their stomachs-from 70 percent in 1992 to only 21 percent in 1997. However, in 1997, 34 percent of African American infants were still sleeping on their stomachs.

The NICHD is distributing free "Back to Sleep" publications and other materials on reducing the risk of SIDS. These materials include a brochure for parents available in English and Spanish, a brochure for health care professionals, display posters, "Back to Sleep" reminder crib stickers, take-home cards to distribute in hospitals and maternity clinics and a parenting training videotape available in either English or Spanish. To order free materials, call "Back to Sleep" toll-free at 1-800-505-CRIB or write to NICHD/Back To Sleep, 31 Center Drive, Room 2A32, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-2425. For the latest information on SIDS and the "Back To Sleep" campaign, visit the NICHD web site at www.nichd.nih.gov.


Note: For other HHS Press Releases and Fact Sheets pertaining to the subject of this announcement, please visit our Press Release and Fact Sheet search engine at: www.os.dhhs.gov/news/press/.