Websites offering health and medical information are often inaccurate when it comes to sleep recommendations for infants, pediatricians have found.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published recommendations on infant sleep safety last year aimed at reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, suffocation, strangulation, and other accidental deaths during sleep.

In Tuesday's issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, doctors reported:

  • Nearly 44 per cent of the 1,300 web sites they reviewed provided accurate information based on the academy's recommendations.
  • 28 per cent provided inaccurate information.
  • 28 per cent were not relevant.

In previous studies, 72 per cent of adults in the U.S. said they believe most or all of the health information on the internet. About 70 per cent said that information that they found on the internet affected how they cared for their own health or the health of their children.

After excluding sites that were irrelevant, nearly 61 per cent of the remaining websites provided accurate information and advice, the researchers said.

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Pediatricians advise that babies be placed on their back every sleep time. (Pichi Chuang/Reuters)

"In conclusion, we found that health- and medical-related web sites frequently contain inaccurate information about infant sleep safety," Dr. Rachel Moon, a pediatrician and SIDS researcher at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington and her co-authors wrote.

"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 the advice found, regardless of the reliability of the source."

Accuracy varied by type of site

To conduct the study, four investigators searched for advice using 13 key phrases and then analyzed the first 100 web sites for each phrase.

"Pacifier infant," "infant home monitors" and "infant co-sleeping" produced the fewest websites with accurate information.

In contrast, searching  for "infant cigarette smoking," "infant sleep position" and "infant sleep surface" yielded the most accurate information, found.

Company or interest group web sites were the most commonly found, followed by retail product review sites and educational sites. 

Companies or interest groups, news, sponsored links, and educational web sites had similar, lower rates of accuracy, ranging from about 51 per cent to 52 per cent, the researchers reported.

Websites from individuals and blogs including forums provided accurate information less than a third of the time, 30 per cent and nearly 26 per cent, respectively.

Government and organizational websites had the highest percentage of accurate information, 80 per cent and nearly 73 per cent, respectively.

The researchers suggested that health care providers consider offering URLs of web sites they've identified as accurately reflecting the academy's guidelines and educating families on how to evaluate health-related web sites for trustworthiness.

To that end, they recommended:

They also suggested that governments hosting sites with information on infant sleep safety periodically review the content for accuracy and currency.