Sleep position may be linked to infants' flat heads, but insurance policies may play a role

The flat-head look that more young children have been sporting has long been attributed to recommendations that babies be put to sleep on their backs. But researchers thought that a spike in such cases in Texas infants warranted a closer look. And they found that the cause was more complex.

Researchers from the Texas Department of State Health Services looked in the Texas Birth Defects Registry to identify cases of plagiocephaly, a fancy word for a deformed skull. They found that between 1999 and 2007, the number of cases skyrocketed from 3 cases per 10,000 births to 29 per 10,000 births, an increase of 21% per year on average, the researchers reported online Monday in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The largest increase was in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

A variety of factors can cause the condition in newborns, but when the condition is acquired, sleep-position recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics are usually blamed. Those guidelines, issued in 1992, aimed to reduce sudden infant death syndrome.

But in Texas, researchers figured, that couldn’t be the whole story because the increases in flat skulls were dramatic after 1999.

They found that efforts to get treatment for the condition appear largely to blame: More parents are seeking treatment for their children’s cosmetically lumpy heads. It turns out that some insurance companies will reimburse the cost for such treatment only if it’s prompted by a specific diagnosis. With more babies taking a trip to the specialist, more babies are getting counted in the plagiocephaly books.

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