Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Rights & Reason: A Mother's Choice

I wonder if President Bush will finance a federal breastfeeding initiative after hearing about this study:
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The longer white infants from low-income families are breast-fed, the less likely they will be overweight as young children, researchers said on Monday. The study of more than 177,000 children from low-income families who visited U.S. public health clinics between 1988 and 1992 found that formula-fed infants and babies breast-fed for less than a month were more likely to develop weight problems by age 4 than infants breast-fed for longer periods.

However, the correlation between breast-feeding duration and healthier weight was limited to whites in the study, and did not apply to Hispanics or blacks, who made up nearly one-third of the participants.

U.S. obesity rates among children and adults have been climbing, with Hispanics and blacks the most likely to be overweight.
. . .
Among the possible reasons behind the correlation are that breast-fed children seem to be better able to self-regulate their eating at mealtimes compared to formula-fed children, the report said. Breast-fed babies likely exert more control over when to stop suckling, while babies fed formula might be urged to finish off a bottle or were left wanting more.

Breast-fed children also have been found to make an easier dietary transition to vegetables than formula-fed children, wrote study author Laurence Grummer-Strawn of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

And compared to breast milk, formula provokes a greater insulin response that may lead to early deposits of body fat, he wrote.
This puts an interesting spin on the political “war on obesity”. The philosophy of the politicians holds that individuals are not responsible for their obesity, but rather they are the innocent victims of large food corporations that get people addicted to junk food. The lawyer-terrorists driving litigation against the food companies expressly disavow the concept of “personal responsibility”.

A mother can choose to breastfeed or formula-feed her infant. Many, if not most, American mothers do not breastfeed their infants for the first year of life, as recommended by most infant health organizations. It is more common to see an infant breastfed for no more than three to six months before being transitioned to formula. This is the result of a mix of cultural factors which I won’t go into here. But suffice to say, the ultimate decision on how to feed a child rests with the parents.

Now the World Health Organization and some leftist groups see it differently. They choose to blame the formula manufacturers, notably Nestle, for forcing an unhealthy product upon innocent mothers and babies. To be sure, the formula companies’ aggressive marketing to doctors and hospitals can be quite distasteful. Many hospitals give newborns formula, which can disrupt a mother’s later efforts to establish breastfeeding. Many physicians are surprisingly uninformed about the differences between breastfeeding and formula, and consequently they’ll advise mothers to quit breastfeeding at the first sign of trouble.

But the real philosophical culprit here isn’t rampant commercialism, but radical feminism. The reason many mothers choose not to breastfeed for an extended period is because they’ve convinced themselves that there’s no genuine difference between human milk and formula. The culture reinforces that view, because they don’t want formula-feeding mothers to feel “guilty” about their choice. But the fact is, human milk is better for the average baby than formula. Science has done a good job creating formula that approximates human milk, but the real thing remains the gold standard. Pretending the differences don’t exist to protect a mother’s psyche is not a valid scientific argument.

The same holds true for the larger “war on obesity”. Individuals might be inclined to blame food companies for their inability to control their own weight, and lawyers will argue personal responsibility is a conservative myth, but pretending individuals don’t have free will doesn’t make it true.

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