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Health Capsules
February 2006
SIDS Risk Up in Winter

Do you put extra blankets or clothes on your infant during the cold winter months, hoping to keep him or her warmer? The extra layers may actually increase the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the sudden, unexplained death of an infant in the first year of life. The number of infants who die from SIDS goes up during the winter, according to NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

For more than a decade, NICHD has led the “Back to Sleep” campaign, which explains how to reduce the risk of SIDS. Since the campaign began, the overall SIDS rate in the U.S. has gone down by more than 50%. Despite the campaign’s progress, however, SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants between 1 month and 1 year of age, claiming the lives of about 2,500 each year.

Most SIDS deaths happen between 2 and 4 months of age. While the causes of SIDS are still unclear, you can reduce factors that increase SIDS risk. NICHD endorses these recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep.
  • Place your baby on a firm sleep surface, such as a safety-approved crib mattress, covered by a fitted sheet.
  • Keep soft objects, toys and loose bedding out of the sleep area.
  • Don’t allow smoking around your baby.
  • Keep your baby’s sleep area close to, but separate from, where you and others sleep.
  • Consider offering a clean, dry pacifier when placing your baby on his or her back to sleep.
  • Don’t let your baby overheat during sleep. The temperature should be kept at a level that feels comfortable for an adult.
  • Avoid products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Don’t use home monitors to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Reduce the chance that flat spots will develop on your baby’s head by providing “Tummy Time” when your baby is awake and someone is watching; changing the direction that your baby lies in the crib; and avoiding too much time in car seats, carriers and bouncers.

NICHD has a variety of free “Back to Sleep” education materials available for parents, caregivers and health care providers. Many are available in English and Spanish.

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  Risky Teen Behavior  

Three of the leading causes of preventable death in the U.S. are smoking, being overweight or obese, and abusing alcohol. A new study shows that a large proportion of American youth are already involved in these risky health behaviors.

NIH-funded researchers at the Carolina Population Center and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill carried out the study. They used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which was designed to measure the effects of home, family and school environments on behaviors that promote health. It’s the most comprehensive survey of adolescent health behavior to date.

More than 14,000 high school and middle school students from around the country were surveyed for the study. Researchers first interviewed them when they ranged from 12 to 19 years of age and then again when they were 19 to 26 years old. The students answered questions about diet, exercise, tobacco use, substance use, binge drinking, violence, reproductive health, mental health and access to health care.

Overall, the study found that many health behaviors got worse during the transition to young adulthood. There were “dramatic” increases in some of the biggest contributors to preventable deaths: smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity, and alcohol consumption.

On the plus side, there was less depression at young adulthood than at the younger ages. Young adults were also less likely to have suicidal thoughts or be involved in violence.

The researchers found significant differences between racial groups. These differences became even greater in young adulthood. The finding that racial groups differ in their health behaviors means that one-size-fits-all intervention programs may not be effective. These findings can now help guide the creation of more effective intervention programs tailored to particular groups.


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Different people need different resources to help them quit smoking. This web site can help you become, and remain, a nonsmoker. It includes an online step-by-step cessation guide, a guide to telephone quitlines, an instant messaging service and a variety of publications that can be downloaded, printed or ordered. From NIH’s National Cancer Institute.

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