Learning a lesson from SIDS

Could a marketing campaing help prevent child abuse?

A Yale pediatrics professor has documented, for the first time, that infants are more likely to be severely injured by child abuse than they are to die of SIDS. In the wake of this finding, the doctor, John M. Leventhal, is asking: “Shouldn’t we have a national campaign that focuses on child abuse prevention?”

Leventhal’s study measures national rates of serious injury in children hospitalized due to abuse. His review of hospitalization data from 2006 (the latest available) showed that 4,569 children were hospitalized for serious abusive injuries and 300 of them died. The overall serious injury rate was 6.2 per 100,000 children under 18. For children under a year old, the rate was 58.2 per 100,000. The study was published in the March issue of Pediatrics.

Leventhal is medical director of the Child Abuse and Child Abuse Prevention programs at Yale–New Haven Children’s Hospital, and he sees a need for public education on a national scale. In 1994, when the National Institutes of Health and other organizations launched the Back to Sleep public education campaign, the SIDS death rate was 103 per 100,000. By 2006, that number had fallen to 55.

Ben Tanzer, of the advocacy group Prevent Child Abuse America, says a campaign should focus on solutions. Back to Sleep works, he notes, because it reaches out to medical caregivers to drive home the message that SIDS is preventable. Similarly, a campaign targeting child abuse would focus on ways to avoid violence. There are steps a stressed parent can take, says Fredericka Wolman of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families: take a deep breath, count to 20, ask for help. It’s time, she says, for health professionals nationally to “market how to comfort and soothe your baby.”


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