WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Federal legislation to curb industry marketingpractices in the sale of infant formula and to enforce a World HealthAssembly code banning the promotion of formula was called for today (Nov. 12) by aCornell University physician and nutritional scientist. Mothers who don'tbreastfeed, he claims, endanger their babies' health.
Michael Latham, M.D., professor of international nutrition at Cornell, saidhe is urging Washington to act to curb what he called "aggressive"marketing and promotion of infant formula in the United States and abroad,which, he said, "violates a basic human right of mothers and babies to giveand receive breastmilk."
"This violation, which is largely ignored, is harmful to the health,nutritional status, and even the survival of infants all over the world,"he said at the National Breastfeeding Policy Conference, sponsored by theUnited States Department of Health and Human Services, which is being heldNov. 12-13 in Washington, D.C. "The negative impact that the marketing andpromotion of infant formula has on the health of babies in this country canbe compared to the deleterious effects that cigarette marketing has on thehealth of teens and adults."
Latham noted that in the 1970s a public outcry over the role of industry inthe decline of breastfeeding, accompanied by an increased understanding ofthe harmful effects of bottle-feeding in developing countries, resulted inthe World Health Assembly issuing the International Code of Marketing ofBreastmilk Substitutes in 1981. The code prohibits advertising to thepublic, free samples to mothers, gifts or personal samples to healthworkers, and images idealizing formula feeding. The code, which can beenforced only by national governments, is intended not to restrict women'schoice, Latham said, but to enable them to make a fully informed choice,free of industry pressure.
Only one country, the United States, voted against the code.
Although Washington has since supported the code at the internationallevel, Latham said that the government has done little to support nationalbreastfeeding initiatives or to enforce the code nationally by passinglegislation to restrict certain marketing practices and to close loopholes.
The negative health effects of not breastfeeding are finally beingrecognized, Latham said. The conference will seek to establish, for thefirst time, a national breastfeeding policy.
Diane Wiessinger, Cornell B.A. '72, M.S. '78, an International BoardCertified Lactation Consultant, who co-authored the presentation, reportedthat about 60 percent of U.S. mothers breastfeed their babies at birth, butthat only about 20 percent of infants still receive any breastmilk by sixmonths of age. "Although breastfeeding has increased in recent years, thegap between scientific and public understanding of the risks associatedwith not breedfeeding is still very large," she said.
According to Latham, widely documented risks of not breastfeeding includereduced IQ, compromised psychological development, greater rates of earinfections, diarrhea, obesity, allergies and even certain life-threateningillnesses and diseases. The influential American Academy of Pediatricspublished a policy statement in December of 1997 strongly supportingbreastfeeding, Latham said.
"Yet, infant formula manufacturers spend billions of dollars marketing tohealth care professionals because each mother who bottle-feeds represents$800 in sales," he added. "As a result of aggressive and pervasivemarketing of infant formula, we have lost a breastfeeding culture in thiscountry in just a few generations.
"The health profession has worked, largely unwittingly, along with theformula industry to render breastfeeding both superior and too serious --and thus to make it seem unattainable and undesirable. Instead, we need topromote breastfeeding as normal and healthful for mother and baby and as anexpected part of the everyday life of the average human being. Not to doso is hazardous to the health and well-being of the nation's infants," saidLatham, who also offered numerous recommendations to promote breastfeeding."The National Breastfeeding Conference represents an important step towardrestoring a breastfeeding culture."
The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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