Sleeping in prone position was identified as the major risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the early 1990s. Royalty-free image – Association Naître et Vivre and ANCReMIN
In several European countries where the incidence rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are high, a high frequency of unsafe parental sleep practices has also been observed. In addition, it is known that pictures conveying implicit or explicit health messages can lead to the modification of health practices. Researchers from Inserm, Université Paris Cité and HEC Paris, in collaboration with the Greater Paris University Hospitals (AP-HP), Nantes University Hospital and other European research structures, studied images shown on baby diaper packaging in 11 European countries, including France. The team showed that a very high proportion of pictures were inconsistent with safe infant sleep recommendations – with many images depicting babies sleeping on their stomach (prone position) or on their side, on loose bedding or surrounded by objects, or sharing a sleep surface with another person. These findings highlight the discrepancy between the pictures used on diaper packaging and safe infant sleep recommendations. They should encourage manufacturers and the legislator to take steps to ensure that these products – and more generally all commercial and official photographs – are consistent with the recommendations for the prevention of SIDS. The study has been published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected death of a baby under the age of one year old, which remains unexplained after a full investigation, including a review of the medical history, investigation of the scene of death, and an autopsy. Putting a baby to sleep in the prone position was identified as the major risk factor for SIDS in the early 1990s. Other risk factors related to the sleep environment were then identified, particularly loose bedding or soft objects (pillows, pillow-like toys, stuffed toys, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, blankets, non-fitted sheet, or bumper pads) and sharing the sleep surface with another person (parent, brother, sister, etc.).
This epidemiological work led to the development and dissemination of international safe infant sleep recommendations. The implementation of these recommendations from the 1990s has helped reduce the incidence of SIDS in France by 80%, which currently stands at between 250 and 350 deaths per year. However, in several European countries, including France, the incidence rates of SIDS are no longer decreasing (or only very slowly), and a high frequency of unsafe parenting practices has been noted.
According to the scientific literature, we know that images can convey implicit or explicit health messages, which has been effective in modifying many health practices (alcohol consumption during pregnancy, breast-feeding, etc.). We also know that while advertising images have historically been important tools for persuasion, they have also always been a source of information for consumers.
Studies have analyzed pictures of sleeping babies in parenting magazines, newspapers, brochures, commercial photo bank websites and on Instagram® and have reported alarming rates of inconsistency with safe infant sleep recommendations ranging from 35% to 93% depending on the medium.
In this context, researchers from Inserm, Université Paris Cité, HEC Paris, Greater Paris University Hospitals (AP-HP), Nantes University Hospital in collaboration with other European research structures, decided to study pictures on diaper packaging in Europe – a product which young parents frequently use.
The scientists systematically searched the internet for the packaging of diapers sold in 11 European countries for babies weighing less than 5 kg, as they are the most at risk of SIDS.
For each packaging identified, they extracted the following data: was there a picture depicting a baby, was the baby sleeping and, if so, was the baby sleeping in accordance with 3 of the 7 recommendations for the prevention of SIDS that can be easily evaluated on the images? Statistical analyses (known as “meta-analyses”) were then carried out using the data obtained in each country to evaluate whether there was any inconsistency with sleeping recommendations.
The research team identified 631 diaper packaging for babies weighing less than 5 kg. On 49 % of them, there was a picture with a sleeping baby. The analyses indicated that 79% of packages depicting a sleeping baby, i.e. 34% of all of the packages, were inconsistent with at least one recommendation for the prevention of SIDS.
For example, a baby was depicted in prone position or on the side on 45% of these packs, with soft objects or loose bedding (pillows, pillow-like toys, stuffed toys, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, blankets, non-fitted sheet, or bumper pads) on 51% of them, or sharing the sleep surface with another person on 10% of them.
Examples of diaper packaging for babies in France and Europe with an image that is inconsistent with the recommendations for the prevention of SIDS: baby not sleeping on their back (A, C); baby sleeping with loose bedding or a soft object (pillow, blanket, toy) (A, B, C, D); baby sharing the sleep surface with another person (D)
The researchers also conducted a search, this time non-systematic, on the websites of health agencies or scientific societies and once again found images inconsistent with the prevention of SIDS.
“Our findings highlight a discrepancy between the messages conveyed on these everyday products or on institutional sites, to which many parents are highly exposed, and the recommendations for the prevention of SIDS. These findings suggest the need for action with manufacturers and legislators addressing this issue. We need to reduce exposure to commercial or official images that are inconsistent with the recommendations for the prevention of SIDS in order to prevent unsafe sleep practices. In doing so, manufacturers and legislators would fully contribute to accurate health information,” concludes Martin Chalumeau, last author of the study, epidemiologist at Inserm, professor at Université Paris Cité and pediatrician at AP-HP.
 S de Visme et al., J Pediatr 2020 Nov; 226:179-185.e4. doi : 10.1016/j.jpeds.2020.06.052
 The 7 recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics: (1) back to sleep for every sleep, (2) on a firm sleep surface in (3) a safety crib (crib, bassinet, portable crib, play yard), (4) in the parents’ room, (5) without any soft objects or loose bedding on, under, beside (pillows, pillow-like toys, stuffed toys, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, blankets, non-fitted sheet, or bumper pads), (6) without sharing the sleep surface with another person, and (7) offering a pacifier.
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