The Public Health Council is set to discuss a proposed restriction on hospital marketing of infant formula today. The meeting comes in the wake of a “midnight massacre” by Governor Romney, who suddenly replaced three supporters of the restriction from the Public Health Council just before today’s meeting. Two PHC members were replaced just four days before the meeting and the third one month earlier. The terms of two members had expired over a year earlier, but the Governor’s timing was clearly intentional. One member’s term had expired in 1999, yet he chose to replace her on May 19, 2006.
In addition, the Romney Administration apparently blocked the Department of Public Health from resubmitting a regulation to ban hospital marketing of formula company discharge bags, a regulation that had been unanimously passed in December, then rescinded in February at the direction of the Romney Administration.
“Romney has gone out of his way to protect the $8 billion formula industry despite being shown solid scientific evidence that their unethical marketing practices hurt mothers and children,” says Dr. Melissa Bartick, an internist who chairs the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition.
There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that breastfeeding is good for mothers and babies,” says Dr. Alison Stuebe, a Boston obstetrician. “Despite unanimous recommendations to him from physicians and public health advocates, Romney has dismissed the facts, putting corporate profits above public health.”
Romney has been increasingly isolated in his stance: he received letters opposing the hospital distribution of commercial bags from regional chapters of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, the Massachusetts Public Health Association, and the American Public Health Association. These letters join statements from the US Surgeon General, the Government Accountability Office, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the World Health Organization, who all oppose this marketing practice.
Research shows that the bags are linked with introduction of formula, thus making it difficult for the 74% of mothers who breastfeed to follow the widely-accepted medical recommendation to give no other food or drink besides breastmilk for the first six months of life. When hospitals give out the bags, it implies the medical profession endorses formula feeding in general, and those expensive premium brands in particular. “This practice is so effective that it’s been used as an example in marketing textbooks,” says Marsha Walker, RN, a national expert who tracks the formula industry. “The formula industry has a lot invested to make sure Massachusetts does not become the first state to eliminate the crown-jewel of their marketing tactics.”
Formula feeding also drives up health care costs. A government report estimated that the US could save $3.6 billion a year in health care costs if breastfeeding rates rose to the levels recommended by the Surgeon General. Higher health care costs result in increased tax expenditures and insurance premiums.