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The Poop on Pampers Dry Max Diapers vs Facebook Moms: A Rash of Rashes or Rash Rush to Recall?

Posted Jun 06 2010 8:57am
There's a battle raging online over little butts. Parents on Facebook posting cringe-worthy stories and photos of rashes, blisters, burns, and bleeding they attribute to Pamper's new Dry Max diapers . A tone-deaf Pampers spokesperson claiming he was insulted by such charges the thinner, more absorbent cousin to Cruisers is anything other than safe .  A diaper supposedly tested on some 20,000 bottoms before hitting the baby aisles surreptitiously nearly two years ago. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) launching its own investigation into the suspect nappies. Cue two class-action lawsuits filed by parents against Proctor and Gamble, the Cincinnati-based consumer-products mega-billion-dollar powerhouse that makes Pampers. The consumer conglomerate's golden image with parents going down the crapper. Ten thousand fans of Please Bring Back the Old Cruisers/Swaddlers on Facebook. Pampers announcing a mere 2 then 5 complaints for every million diapers sold. About 25% of babies with a diaper rash on any given day in all brands of diapers. Consumer website ZRecommend 's head honcho swaddling himself with urine-soaked Dry Max . Diaper execs wooing mommy bloggers.

In other words, a situation ripe with evidence and emotion, but very little well-documented data, at least objective data that settles the dispute.

I learned all this in the past week after a Pampers PR agent contacted me about meeting with their experts. At the time I wasn't terribly interested in this diaper debacle. At least not enough to plan a surgical strike allowing me to leave the family nest mid-week. It's been almost a year since my last little butt has finally, excruciatingly, mercifully left the land of diapering. I was so done with diapers.

More to the point, there's no journal article for me to scour. No methodologies, data collection, or statistical tests. Only conflicting reports from what has turned out to be two sides reduced to the predictable dichotomy: diapers, thumbs up, diapers, thumbs down. Like so often in the parenting realm, a striking lack of objectivity and nuance. No devils in the details. True, the traditional newsish accounts pretty much stuck to the facts above, but there haven't been many detailed treatments and most just online popping up in the last few weeks (e.g., Wall Street Journal , ABCNews , Bloomberg, Reuters, an NBC affiliate , Chicago Tribune blog ). The rest of the coverage - from the Pampers press releases and the mommy bloggers who basically exonerated the diapers - to the Facebook fans and other websites denouncing the diapers - offers two very different conclusions. Drastically different scenarios. A corporate cover-up versus social media storm.

So I got curious quick. Most obviously I can't stop wondering what's up with all those inflamed little fannies. All the photos on Facebook. Truly awful.

The rashes aside, I'm not satisfied with what I've been reading out there - from anybody. It'll be months probably until the CPSC tells us anything. Until then I'll be niggling over the details from the two camps. Also left out of the equation thus far - the pediatric community. Where are they? I assume waiting for the journal article to cross their desks. Too busy reassuring parents vaccines are relatively safe. Nothing from the American Academy of Pediatrics. None of my admittedly few pediatrician friends and contacts have seen a rash of rashes. Sure, Pampers have a pediatric expert on board. WebMD blogger Dr. Ari Brown saw just one bad case of "contact dermatitis" on a Dry Max bottom.

As a mom, those burning butts burn my a** but as a researcher many nagging details bedevil me. The psychologist in me, and sorry if it sounds politically incorrect or insensitive to the kids suffering rashes and such, wonders about the powers of persuasion and group behavior (see STATS.org's Trevor Butterworth on Forbes.com ) - from the PR VIPs wining and dining mommy bloggers to the Facebook fanfare replete with photos and passionate ex-Pamper purchasing parents.

And you know I long for more data. MORE DATA please!

Pampers hasn't come forth with enough. They need to cough up more about the supposed 20,000-subject diaper-testing. We need some cold numbers. NOW. How many reactions. How many severe. Let us inside your product-testing, dear Pamps! Because you haven't been spitting out this data, we got some troubling self-experimentation a la the Rubber Ducky environmental crowd from the other camp. The founder of Zrecommend is conducting his own Skin Reaction Test. Yes, pseudoscience at its best - one (!) subject from an organization that's already told parents not to buy Dry Max , comparing the children with rashes to "canaries in the coal mine", the first casualties indicative of a larger, long-term health threat posed by the diapers. Lordy, lordy. I had such high hopes for Z, starting out on their 3 reports on the diaper debate (4th coming soon). The consumer review site has put out the most information so far, even suggesting the sources for the spate of rashes (e.g., hot glue, omitted mesh liner). They sound so good, even calling out Pamps on the real, likely higher cases of diaper reactions. I thank them for that.

How would a researcher approach this mess? It really boils down to two or three empirical questions
Are the diapers causing more reactions than normal?
Are the diapers causing more severe reactions than normal? If so, what kind of reactions?

These are separate issues from whether the diapers should be recalled and parents reimbursed, etc.

As of yet we just don't know the two critical questions. We haven't collected all the data. True, it could be Pampers has some data indicative of trouble. Or maybe not. It can and will be settled. The good news, this is so much easier and quicker to find out than some of the other threats we've come to know and dissect here (e.g., bisphenol a, phthalates, vaccines, infant formula).

As you've most likely guessed, I'm going to schlep to Pampers this week. Before any claims of bias, let me assure you all that it's mostly on my dime. They offered but I declined so I'm paying for the flight, hotel, and cab fare between the two. I'll hitch a ride with them and no doubt several of my fellow bloggers from the hotel to the Baby Center and dinner, yes, they'll feed me and treat me to their panel of inside and outside experts. I was worried about all of this - being a guest of PandG, being perceived as a mouth-piece, a mommy blogger trumpeting their cause, not maintaining an objective mind that's so important to this blog. Yet I trust my work at MommaData over the years supersede these concerns.

When it comes right down to it, this is just about diapers and so much more than just diapers.

We're talking about separating fact from fiction, persuasion from validity, serious threats from minor threats from false alarm. Parenting in the wake of the autism-vaccine disaster, amidst the new media rampant with health claims, it is irresponsible not to flesh out growing threats in the public discourse and put some reason into the ruckus.

When it comes down to it, I don't give a fig about diapers. They're dead to me. But reliable, accurate, accessible and nuanced information about children?

Abso-f***ing-lutely.
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