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Talking About (Blush) Breast-Feeding

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It’s getting easier to talk about what breasts are actually for, but not much. They’re for feeding infants and it’s important to breast-feed newborns all the way through the first year and maybe more, because
(Washington Post) a comprehensive analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) own Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) of multiple studies on breast-feeding, generally found it was associated with fewer ear and gastrointestinal infections, as well as lower rates of diabetes, leukemia, obesity, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.
Whoa. Ear infections are the nemesis of parenthood and intestinal infections are definitely not fun. But diabetes, leukemia, obesity, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome are not problems, they're family disasters that a parent would do almost anything to prevent.

Except perhaps to breast feed.

It’s inconvenient, and made more so by infant-formula companies who incessantly remind us of the inconvenience. Conveniently left out of the argument is whether or not their solution to all the ills (of actually giving an infant a human nipple to suck) could kill your child.

There’s huge profit in over-sugared. Huge profits trump health advice on a regular basis from the pages of our favorite magazines.
(Wikipedia) Use of infant formula has been decreasing in industrial countries for over forty years as a result of antenatal education, increased understanding of the risks of infant formula, and social activism. Most major medical and health organizations strongly advocate breastfeeding over the use of infant formula except in unusual circumstances.
So, there’s not much argument. When federal officials commissioned an ad campaign to promote breast feeding, it should have been a slam-dunk (will that phrase ever be the same?). Uncontested support quickly got contested and proved how subservient the higher levels are to the lower levels. The presidentially appointed advisory levels.
(Marc Kaufman and Christopher Lee, Washington Post Staff Writers) In an attempt to raise the nation's historically low rate of breast-feeding, federal health officials commissioned an attention-grabbing advertising campaign a few years ago to convince mothers that their babies faced real health risks if they did not breast-feed. It featured striking photos of insulin syringes and asthma inhalers topped with rubber nipples.

Wow. Now there’s a powerful campaign with a really useful goal. I can’t wait to see the ads. Not everyone was impressed as I and not everyone supported the campaign, excellent as it was.

Plans to run these blunt ads infuriated the politically powerful infant formula industry, which hired a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former top regulatory official to lobby the Health and Human Services Department. Not long afterward, department political appointees toned down the campaign.

Infant-formula industry 1, United States Government 0. End of game and not even close.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services was essentially steam-rollered into an alternative advisory position on a major health care matter by political appointees, responding to the offending industry.  That ‘political appointees ‘ tag sounds like it might point toward Cristina Beato, who was then an acting assistant secretary at HHS. She was only ‘acting’ because Congress refused to vote on her confirmation. The complaint was that she had padded her official resume (read that lied about her prior experience).

So our president made her a recess appointee.

Or the appointee label might apply to Ann-Marie Lynch, another Bush choice who was then in charge of the agency's Office of Planning and Evaluation.
Lynch, a former lobbyist for the drug industry trade association PhRMA, reversed an HHS decision to finance a $630,000 community outreach effort to promote breast-feeding, according to an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post. Asked to comment, Lynch said she never discussed "baby formula issues with baby formula manufacturers" at HHS.
These are the people making decisions at HHS that work against your and your child’s welfare. But they are out there full-time, rearranging the furniture within the agency to suit any and all commercial interests.
The ads ran instead with more friendly images of dandelions and cherry-topped ice cream scoops, to dramatize how breast-feeding could help avert respiratory problems and obesity. In a February 2004 letter, the lobbyists told then-HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson they were "grateful" for his staff's intervention to stop health officials from "scaring expectant mothers into breast-feeding," and asked for help in scaling back more of the ads.

The formula industry's intervention -- which did not block the ads but helped change their content -- is being scrutinized by Congress in the wake of last month's testimony by former surgeon general Richard H. Carmona that the Bush administration repeatedly allowed political considerations to interfere with his efforts to promote public health.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating allegations from former officials that Carmona was blocked from participating in the breast-feeding advocacy effort and that those designing the ad campaign were overruled by superiors at the formula industry's insistence.

"This is a credible allegation of political interference that might have had serious public health consequences," said Waxman, a California Democrat.

Dandelions and ice-cream scoops. The industry was meanwhile ‘grateful’ enough to Tommy Thompson that he was able to run (for a time) as a presidential candidate.
A top HHS official said that at the time, Suzanne Haynes, an epidemiologist and senior science adviser for the department's Office on Women's Health, argued strongly in favor of promoting the new (breast feeding) conclusions in the media and among medical professionals. But her office, which commissioned the report, was specifically instructed by political appointees not to disseminate a news release.
But the dandelion and ice-cream campaign did go out. You may not have noticed the message among all those creamy dandelion images, but the infant-formula folks sure saw it.
The industry substantially increased its own advertising as soon as the HHS campaign was launched. According to a 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office, formula companies spent about $30 million in 2000 to advertise their products. In 2003 and 2004, when the campaign was underway, infant formula advertising increased to nearly $50 million.
Meanwhile the nation’s mothers spend nearly $3 billion on breast milk substitutes.  Not needing breasts any longer to protect kids’ health, they merrily spend another $1 billion on enhancing them, so they look great.

All with the encouragement of your friendly Bush administration and their consumer-friendly motto: 
“Better Things for Better Living Through Dissembling.”
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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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