Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New study favors fortified formula?

When I read the headline of this news article, I was completely taken aback: "New evidence favors fortified baby formula." Huh? There is now evidence that infant formula that's fortified with DHA/ARA from algae is now favored over breast milk? Says who?

Well, the newspaper article title is a bit misleading, but so says a group of doctors who tested 202 9-month-old babies on their ability to perform a series of problem-solving tests. According to the study, which is published in the current issue of the journal Child Development, 51% of the babies who were on fortified formula from birth successfully completed the 3 tests, compared with only 29% who got regular formula without the added DHA/ARA.

Some babies in the study had been breastfed and those who were weaned from breast milk to formula when they were 4 to 6 months did equally well on all of the tests whether they got the fortified formula or not. According to the researchers, the take away is that perhaps these babies didn't receive the enhanced formula long enough for it to make a difference. But maybe the real reason is that they'd already gotten the benefits of the breast milk!

Now this study is all kinds of flawed. As Arwyn from Raising My Boychick noted on Twitter, if the study had noted the level of nutrition of the mothers of the breastfed babies and if formula company money wasn't involved, maybe it would be worth paying attention to. Yes, that's right, all of the formula used in the study was "donated" by Mead Johnson, makers of Enfamil. Wasn't that nice of them? In addition to donating the formula, Mead Johnson also paid two of the doctors (Hoffman & Birch) involved for subsequent studies. Dr. Hoffman has also received consultant fees from Mead Johnson to provide educational seminars for pediatricians. Let me guess, Dr. Hoffman recommends Enfamil!

These types of studies really frustrate me because the science is flawed and then you get headlines that scream "formula is better than breast milk!" and many people believe it. How many people who read this article will take the time to look up the abstract of the journal article where the study was published and realize this whole thing is just another marketing tactic by the formula companies. The sad part is that a lot of new parents will fall for this ploy. As Barbara Moore, president and CEO of Shape Up America!, told in an e-mail, "This is a disturbing new development....Now parents will be encouraged to forgo breastfeeding--which is optimal for both mothers and babies--in favor of a hyped up infant formula."

And let's not forget there are some dangers associated with feeding babies formula that has been fortified with DHA/ARA, including gastrointestinal upset, jaundice, apnea and even death. For a great report on these enhanced formulas, please take the time to read Cornucopia's research in "Replacing Mother: Imitating Human Breast Milk in the Lab." Are these added ingredients safe, risky, or a benign marketing gimmick to sell more formula? Do your due diligence to decide, but please don't let Mead Johnson do it for you.

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