When greed and special interests gang up against very small children . . . In early 2004, the International Formula Council (IFC), the lobbying organization for the infant formula industry, successfully changed an ad campaign (begun in 2003 and lasting to 2005) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which promoted breastfeeding. The IFC figures leading the effort against the ads were Clayton Yeutter who had been Secretary of Agriculture 1998-1991 and chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) 1991-1992 and Joseph Levitt who had just used the revolving door to leave the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition which regulates infant formula to become an industry lobbyist.
The goal of the campaign was to raise the visibility of breastfeeding in reducing childhood obesity and asthma. The IFC, however, found the ad campaign too effective negative. As Yeutter wrote to then HHS head Tommy Thompson, "Negative political ads are effective too, but neither you nor I like them!" Images of insulin syringes and inhalers were replaced with pictures of dandelions and ice cream. Unsurprisingly, the diluted ad campaign did not work. Soon after birth breastfeeding rates fell from 70% in 2002 to 63.6% in 2006 and at 6 months (the WHO recommended period) from 33.2% in 2002 to 30% in 2006.
Additionally, HHS press officer Rebecca Ayer effectively smothered an epidemiological meta-study put together by the HHS Agency on Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The study showed that breastfeeding was associated with a reduction in ear and intestinal infections, as well as rates of diabetes, leukemia, obesity, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Ayer not only refused to issue a press release on it but forbade the AHRQ from doing so and told the study’s author Suzanne Haynes not to talk to the press about it.
The take home lesson here clearly is that it is the babies’ fault. They should be better and more informed consumers.