Percent of U.S. children who are exclusively breastfed for three or six months, according to CDC National Immunization Survey
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT has sounded the alarm in recent months. The state of infant nutrition in America is in disrepair. A number of reports have been issued, including a “call for action” in January from Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and one just last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An army of facts and numbers has been gathered on the plains of bureaucratic warfare to document a serious public health problem: The vast majority of mothers are not breastfeeding their babies enough.
That this is a public health problem is indisputable. Even to the public health geek, who sees all through the lens of statistics, human milk is irreplaceable. Children are seldom dying without it (the mortality rate attributable to formula feeding involves about 1,000 cases a year), but their well-being in many instances is seriously undermined and the effects have been documented. Ironically, though manufactured formula is costly, low-income parents are much more likely to use it.
What is also indisputable is that the federal government is a major cause of the problem and is seemingly hell bent on keeping it that way.
For all the expense and effort that has gone into the call for action, one would think officials really wanted to see more infants healthy and well-fed. In their heart of hearts they do, but their minds and intentions are clouded by self-interest, political orthodoxy and misguided liberal paternalism. The public effort to encourage better infant nutrition is a window onto the welfare state and its inner workings, a case study in the inability of our federal bureaucracy to overlook its own interests, commercial pressures and ideology on behalf of children.
For the most important and necessary step to improving the incidence of breastfeeding is never mentioned by the Surgeon General or the CDC: The federal government should get out of the business of supplying millions of mothers with free infant formula.
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