Thursday, October 25, 2007

Insulin Vials Topped With Rubber Nipples

What do you all think of this ad?

It's powerful, but don't expect to see it run, as this ad was shelved in favor of a less effective ad that ran for a very short time (see below for that ad).

Apparently this was a concept ad that was proposed to the Department of Health and Human Services in an attempt to raise the nation's historically low rate of breast-feeding. A few years ago, federal health officials commissioned an attention-grabbing ad campaign to try and convince mothers that their babies faced genuine health risks if they did not breast-feed. The campaign featured striking photos of not only insulin vials and syringes, but also asthma inhalers topped with rubber nipples (see for all of the pictures).

But this ad, along with several others, were apparently caught up in the scandal involving suppression of information that was at odds with the Bush Administration's line of thinking or did not mesh with an industry that supported President Bush, in this case, the infant formula industry. As the former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona testifed before Congress this summer, the Bush Administration repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations, and this looks like another case of political cronyism beating public health concerns.

The World Health Organization recommends that, if at all possible, women breast-feed their infants exclusively for at least 6 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that breast-feeding decreases the incidence and/or severity of a wide range of infectious and autoimmune diseases and may decrease the rate of sudden infant death syndrome in the first year of life. Statistics also show that breast-feeding babies reduces the incidence of type 1 diabetes, lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkin disease, and asthma in older children and adults who were breastfed when compared to individuals who were not breastfed.

But despite the known benefits, the U.S. has one of the lowest rates of mother's nursing their infants in the industrialized world. Women tend to do what their mother's did in terms of nursing, and in the U.S., women in the 1950's and 1960's were instructed that formula-feeding was better than breastfeeding.

Not everyone is able to breastfeed their children because public breastfeeding remains illegal in some states, or they work in jobs that do not provide space or time for breastfeeding or pumping, or because their children are adopted. They claim that the proposed ad campaign used hyperbole and scare tactics. But really, that is often the very basis of an effective ad campaign, which is to get consumers to think about something being advertised.

For example, consider the now legendary 1964 "daisy" political ad for Lyndon Johnson. Talk about memorable, that ad aired only once (by the campaign) during a September 7, 1964 movie that aired on NBC, yet remains an advertisement that looms large in the public consciousness decades later.

But as The Washington Post reported, plans to run the ads infuriated the politically powerful infant formula industry, which hired a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former top regulatory official to lobby the Health and Human Services Department. Not long afterward, department political appointees toned down the campaign. The result was this lame ad:

Kevin Keane, then HHS assistant secretary for public affairs and now a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said "We took heat from the formula industry, who didn't want to see a campaign like this. And we took some heat from the advocates who didn't think it was strong enough. At the end of the day, we had a ground-breaking campaign that goes further than any other administration ever went."

But the milder campaign HHS eventually did use had no discernible impact on the nation's breast-feeding rate, which lags behind the rate in many European countries. Statistics cited in The Washington Post article showed the ads actually may have caused a reduction in breast-feeding rates when the ads ran.

I am curious what all the Diabetes OC'ers think about the shelved campaign? Would you have liked to see it run, or did it "scar expectant mothers into breast-feeding" as the lobbyists for the infant formula industry claimed? What are your thoughts regarding the Bush Administration's hostility towards sound science? Should we even be encouraging breast-feeding, or is this up to mothers to make this decision?


Shannon said...

I breast fed Brendon for an entire year and he still got Type 1.

The first reaction I got from the scrapped ad was one of guilt even though the ad doesn't really apply to me.

Women get judged enough about their choice to breast feed or not to breast feed. That ad sort of puts the blame on them if they don't breast feed and their child develops Type 1. And I think that's b.s.

As for the Bush administration, they're promoting modern day Dark Ages as far as medicine goes.

Vivian said...

I agree with Shannon. I did not breast feed any of my children, although I tried with each. My milk was not good. There was nothing I could do about it. There is already so much guilt thrown at mothers but then to see an ad like this, when your child does have an autoimmune disease like Type 1, hurts and adds to the guilt.

Anonymous said...

My mom breastfed me as a baby - longer than she wanted to because I hated bottles in fact (or so I am told). Still got Type 1. I wouldn't want her to see it and feel any more guilty than she does already.

Jenny said...


I'm another ex-La Leche League mom. I breast fed one kid for a year, the other wouldn't nurse and was so thin it was getting scary, so she went on a bottle at 3 months.

The breast fed one had a horrible time with allergies for the next 8 years.

I think the problem may have been that I gave him soy formula the few times I couldn't nurse, which turns out to be really toxic to babies and causes immune problems.

But though I am a big fan of nursing for babies, I have watched the nursing/bottle battle go on for 40 years and I doubt it is ever going to change. If anything, there is a lot more knowledge about the benefits of nursing in the middle classes in the U.S. now than there was when I was in my 20s in the 1970s or even in the 1980s when I worked full time in the IT field and pumped a couple times a day.

Jonah said...

I was breastfed until my mother got pregnant when I was one, and ta da! I have type one diabetes. I like it, but I'm not sure I want the judgmental world seeing it. Hmm.

Anonymous said...

Are children Who are breast-fed less likely to develop type 1 diabetes? The statistics they are citing are for the general population, not for children of Type 1 diabetics. The latter are far more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes. I was breast-fed, but I had a father who developed Type 1 in his twenties and a mother who developed Chron's disease in her thirties. However, my little sister, who was also breastfed, developed asthma and Graves Disease. No amount of breast-feeding will prevent auto-immune diseases in children who have been set up by fate and genetics to develop it at this time.. That being said, breastfeeding is the best, and the HHS campaign should have been seen in its un-tampered-with version. I'm sure that the statistics they are citing are true for the general population, not the subset of Type 1 diabetic parents. It's another example of politics and money distorting the truth in health care in this country and the vulnerable paying the price. I'm sick to death of the current regime and its insistance on promoting fallacy over fact for a profit.

As for parents not wanting to feel guilty - get over it. It comes with the territory. Just wait until they are teenagers. You will look at the piercings, the hair dye, the ripped clothing and the slack-jawed expressions while they are plugged in to their iPods and wonder "Did I do this by not doing something right?"

Bad Decision Maker said...

Whoa, I was just writing a post about my own personal experience with this as a breastfed type 1 when I found this post.

I have a lot of thoughts about this. One, I agree with people here that we really don't need to guilt/judge type 1's or their mothers more. However, I am into education promoting the benefits of breastfeeding for future mothers if it can be done in a non-judgemental way, and one that acknowledges the fact that not all mothers can breastfeed. It's not just that public breastfeeding is illegal in some places (what a messed up law), there also are some mothers that cannot breastfeed for reasons that protect their own health or that of the baby. I don't care if the formula companies feel hurt.

And the Bush Administration's hostility toward sound science (and women's and children's health, especially, it seems) is NOT ok.

Susana la Banana said...

Type I diabetic here, breastfed for...two years, maybe?

I think those ads should've been run the way they were originally, because I think we need to reframe this. It shouldn't be an issue of guilt on an individual mother's part, but rather, lack of good information to make choices. Most American mothers don't learn about the potential health implications when making the decision to breast or bottle feed. If they do know about them, then they are free to choose what's right for their family, and I think each person probably knows what's best for their family much better than I do, so I certainly don't judge whichever decision is made...but we need to get the message out about what to consider when making this decision--that formula and mother's milk can have different effects on children's health and development, that they aren't just the same substance in different packaging. ;)

And whoever said that mothers will feel guilt no matter what was SO right! Not making mothers feel guilty seems to me like a convenient way for formula companies to make "The Decision" all about freedom of choice instead of scientific information.

Sorry for the late comment, just ran across this while randomly browsing. Thanks for a great post!