The Thinking 

More on Infant Nutrition

August 14, 2011


GEORGE KENT, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, writes:

I was very pleased to see your recent piece, “The Welfare State and Mother’s Milk.” Very well done! I appreciate your very positive response to what I’ve said.

I’ve now put my 2006 critique of WIC into a broader context, viewing it as a failure of governmental regulation, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. I have a book on regulating infant formula now in production at Hale Publishing. I hope it will be out in a few months. I will be giving talks about it in Europe in the fall.

Laura writes:

Thank you. That’s great.

May I ask how you became interested in the subject of WIC and infant nutrition?

Prof. Kent responds:

For a long time my agenda has centered on food issues, children’s issues, and human rights, in various combinations. I’ve spent a lot of time studying child mortality and its causes, and learned that inadequate infant feeding helps to explain millions of child deaths every year.

Like many others, for a long time I assumed the infant formula issues were mainly about low-income countries. Then I began to notice data that showed worse health outcomes with formula feeding in high-income countries as well. The important conclusion I derived from that is that the increased mortality was not due simply to the fact that some people had worse living conditions, such as contaminated water. It is formula itself that is defective. Even when it is used as it is supposed to be used, and there are no contaminants, formula-fed infants have worse health than breastfed infants. Learning that almost a thousand infant deaths a year in the U.S. are associated with formula feeding really struck me as important.

When I learned that WIC provides more than half the infant formula used in the U.S. at no cost to the families, I realized that was wrong, wrong, wrong.

WIC seems to systematically avoid comparing health outcomes with different feeding methods. It also avoids comparing health care costs.

I’ve also come to recognize that there are much deeper wrongs, in the failures of governments to regulate infant formula properly. Probably the most egregious failure is the acceptance of a claim that the recipe for infant formula decided in the 1980s is nutritionally adequate, when just about all the evidence shows that it is not. My new book on Regulating Infant Formula pushes hard on that point.

How about you? Where did you come from on this issue, and where are you going with it?

Laura writes: 

Basically, I am a traditionalist fighting feminist orthodoxy, which tends to blur these issues. I obviously support breastfeeding and maternal care. I am interested in this government campaign for breastfeeding.

Prof. Kent writes:

What government campaign for breastfeeding? Does it look serious to you? Even when the Surgeon General’s “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding” doesn’t even mention WIC’s distribution of infant formula?

Laura writes:

No, it does not look serious. There’s all that verbiage and nothing critical of free formula.


                                                  — Comments —

Melissa writes:

I also follow this blog (here is a link on a breastfeeding discussion there). The author takes a very hard line on breastfeeding. As a biologist, I don’t know many female biologists who would argue with the statement that breastmilk is the absolute best food for infants.

It seems the feminists still haven’t gotten the memo. It’s too bad, because their denial of human biology hurts babies and it particularly hurts poorer populations that feminists claim to care about. A commenter notes that her husband is a rocket scientist and was never breastfed, but IQ is certainly not all about breastfeeding. However, for people on the lower end of IQ distributions, a few points can make a big difference. And breastfeeding is not just about IQ. There are many chronic health problems correlated with lack of breastfeeding.

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