We’ve long been taught to beware false health information on the internet. But a new study shows that – at least when it comes to current infant sleep safety recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – even government sites don’t always get it right.
Researchers from Children’s National Medical Center in Cincinnati conducted Google searches on 13 key phrases relating to infant sleep safety, and evaluated the top 100 web sites that turned up in each search. They then classified the information on those sites as either “accurate,” “inaccurate” or “not relevant.”
Among relevant websites, just 60.8% provided accurate information according to AAP guidelines, which were last updated in October 2011.
Most likely to deliver the correct information were government websites (80.1% accurate) and sites from organizations dedicated to parenting, infant health or SIDS awareness (72.5% accurate).
Least likely to be accurate –yet among the most common types encountered in these searches – were retail and product review sites. These offered correct information on infant sleep safety only 8.5% of the time, with many promoting items such as sleep-positioning devices, which experts have warned parents to avoid using. “Typically, these sites are using marketing strategies to sell a product, rather than trying to provide accurate information,” says study co-author Brandi Joyner, MSA, of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.
Individual websites and personal blogs were inaccurate 65-70% of the time because they often focused on personal opinions about controversial topics such as co-sleeping and use of infant monitors, rather than sticking to expert guidelines. News sites were classified as “inaccurate” about half the time for reporting both sides of infant-sleep controversies, rather than emphasizing expert advice for parents. Government sites with wrong information, on the other hand, tended to be simply out of date.
The study was published Aug. 2 in The Journal of Pediatrics.
To help parents find their way to accurate online information, Joyner offers these tips:
• Stay away from blogs, and sites promoting products.
• Focus instead on sites with .gov and .org domain names.
• Check for indications of when a site or page was last updated.
• Check two or three different sites, rather than relying on just one.
• Rely on the AAP site (aap.org) for infant sleep safety information. You can access their guidelines here.