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Am J Public Health. 2000 Apr;90(4):527-31.

Suffocated prone: the iatrogenic tragedy of SIDS.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Science, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Umeå University, Sweden.


Epidemiologic research has shown that prone sleeping is a major risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In a public health review from Sweden, we explored the historical background of the SIDS epidemic, starting with the view of the Catholic Church that sudden infant deaths were infanticides and ending with the slowly disseminated recommendation of a prone sleeping position during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The story of the SIDS epidemic illustrates a pitfall of preventive medicine--the translation of health care routines for patients to general health advice that targets the whole population. False advice, as well as correct advice, may have a profound effect on public health because of the many individuals concerned. Preventive measures must be based on scientific evidence, and systematic supervision and evaluations are necessary to identify the benefits or the harm of the measures. The discovery of the link between prone sleeping and SIDS has been called a success story for epidemiology, but the slow acceptance of the causal relationship between prone sleeping and SIDS illustrates the weak position of epidemiology and public health within the health care system.

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