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Don't Trust 'Dr. Google' for Help on Infant Sleep Safety

FRIDAY, Aug. 3 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that parents shouldn't trust a Google search for accurate information on infant sleep safety.

These Web searches commonly turned up results that contradicted current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics aimed at reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), suffocation, strangulation and other accidental sleep-related deaths, the study found.

What is particularly worrisome, the researchers said, is that 72 percent of adults say they trust most or all of the health information they find on the Internet.

The study was published Aug. 2 in the Journal of Pediatrics.

"It is important for health care providers to realize the extent to which parents may turn to the Internet for information about infant sleep safety and then act on that advice, regardless of the reliability of the source," Dr. Rachel Moon, pediatrician and SIDS researcher at Children's National Medical Center, Washington, D.C., said in a journal news release.

Moon and her team used Google, the leading Internet search engine in the United States, to test the accuracy of information on infant sleep safety available on the Web.

They performed the Google searches using 13 key phrases based on specific recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on infant sleep safety. The researchers analyzed the top 100 search results for each phrase, which included a total 1,300 websites.

According to the study, 43.5 percent of the websites provided accurate information. But just over 28 percent of the search results provided inaccurate information, and about the same number provided information that had nothing to do with infant sleep safety.

After discounting the irrelevant websites, the researchers found that about 61 percent of the websites provided information that was in line with the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The search phrases that yielded the most accurate information were "infant cigarette smoking," "infant sleep position" and "infant sleep surface." The search terms that resulted in the most inaccurate information were "pacifier infant," "infant home monitor" and "infant co-sleeping."

Internet searches using these key phrases most often sent users to links to company or special-interest groups, retail product reviews and educational websites, the researchers said.

After analyzing the content available, they noted that government websites were about 80 percent accurate, and organizational websites were about 73 percent accurate.

Blogs, retail product reviews, and individuals' websites most often provided incorrect information on infant sleep safety. Blogs were only about 31 percent accurate. Retail product reviews were only about 36 percent accurate, and personal websites were about 46 percent correct.

The study's authors advise health care providers to provide patients and caregivers with a list of updated websites that accurately reflect the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations on infant sleep safety.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more information on infant sleep safety.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Elsevier, news release, Aug. 2, 2012

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