This is a story reporting on a first examination of fans to try to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). While the story framed the new observation in terms like “seemed to lower the risk” and “seems to suggest,” this new finding could have been put more clearly in the context of the hierarchy of factors which reduce the chance of SIDS. The story also failed to explain anything about the type of fan or “dose’” of fan use (i.e. box, oscillating, facing into the room, blowing on the child or not, moving air in or out of the window). So readers got no insight that would enable them to take action. The fact that the study upon which the story is based didn’t reveal such details is no excuse; the story needed that information or needed to explain why it wasn’t in the study. This study almost feels like an early Phase I drug trial in which the exact dose and benefit have not yet been determined. The story could have framed it that way. It’s a case where the potential flaws of a study design (case-control study) are important and could have been explained.
The story didn’t need to comment on the cost of fans or the electricity to power them.
The story reported that 3% of babies who died of SIDS had fans on in their rooms, while 12% of babies who did not die of SIDS has fans on in their rooms. This is actually a very confusing way of reporting this sort of information but is a side effect of the study design which can only provide information about the proportion of those with the exposure by outcome. From these numbers, one could come to understand that more babies who had fans on in their rooms did not die of SIDS but that having a fan on in the room did not prevent all SIDS deaths.
The story would have been improved by explaining that the ‘benefit’ also varied quite widely by other coinicident circumstances. This is valuable to explain to readers so that they could appreciate that reducing risk of SIDS depends on many factors.
There was no discussion of potential harms associated with fan use in the room where an infant sleeps. While the study on which this story was based may not have commented on potential harms, the story should have probed further. Few (if any) things affecting one’s health come without tradeoffs.
The terms used in this story to describe the potential for benefit were appropriately cautious. While it did include quotes indicating that more research was necessary, the story did not do an adequate job of explaining that the results of this one study should have been considered as preliminary, even if they are in line with previous theory. The results are possibly flawed given a study design that is better suited for generating hypotheses than for establishing causal links. There are problems with recall bias in case-control studies. The fact that the report was lacking in detail about how the fans were used or anything about what approach is best is a problem worth mentioning.
The story did not engage in overt disease mongering.
The story drew from a published paper and comments from the senior author of the paper and another expert in the field without ties to the authors of the paper reported on.
The second sentence of the published study lists some of the factors which have been shown to be associated with decreased risk of sudden infant death. It may have helped for the story to include all the factors mentioned in the paper and perhaps provide readers with some insight as to the magnitude of benefit seen.
That said, one problem with the story is that it failed to detail anything about the types of fan, how they were set up, or explain why these details were lacking.
The story didn’t need to comment on the widespread availability of fans.
However the study did not report details about the type of fan or ‘dose’ of fan use (i.e. box, oscillating, facing into the room, blowing on the child or not, moving air in or out of the window). This should have been mentioned in the story.
As mentioned in the story, the study on which the story is based made the claim that this was the first time fan use in the room where an infant sleeps was examined as a factor affecting the risk of sudden infant death.
Does not appear to rely exclusively on a press release.