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Formula Industry Lobby Undermined Federal Breastfeeding Campaign

A 2003-2005 breastfeeding promotion campaign commissioned by the federal government was watered down after pressure from formula industry lobbyists, the Washington Post reports. Originally, the ads featured disquieting images of insulin syringes and asthma inhalers to emphasize the negative health consequences associated with not breastfeeding. They were the result of focus-group research suggesting that an “edgy” campaign would be most effective in changing breastfeeding behaviors among new mothers.

After lobbyists were hired by formula companies, however, the advertisements were softened, reports the Washington Post. The new, colorful ads that ran stressed the positive effects of breastfeeding. Using suggestive images of breasts (two round, red-centered dandelions and two cherry-topped scoops of ice cream), the new ads meant to show how breastfeeding is associated with a decreased risk of respiratory illnesses and obesity.

The Department of Health and Human Services continued with the campaign despite warnings from its advertising agency that toned-down ads would be ineffective, according to The Post. After the campaign, breastfeeding rates for new mothers actually dropped — from 33.2 percent of mothers breastfeeding infants at six months (the minimum length recommended by The American Academy of Pediatrics), to 30 percent. “This campaign needed to be much stronger than it was,” Dr. Lawrence Gartner, an American Academy of Pediatrics expert on breastfeeding, told The Post.

The CDC estimates that today, only 11.3 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed for six months.

Sources:

The Washington Post 8/31/07; American Academy of Pediatrics 2/7/05; The Centers for Disease Control 7/27/07