A Crucial Tweak to Breast Feeding May Reduce Allergies and Diabetes
CBS News published this attention-grabbing headline, yesterday: "Breast-Feeding Advice Wrong? What Should Moms Do?"
Shocking? Not to breast-feeding advocates and lactation consultants; they see it all the time. It's the kind of headline that makes pediatric professionals grind their teeth.
Worse, CBS further confused the most important part of the study: that introducing gluten into an infant's diet too early or too late may increase the risk of celiac disease and diabetes. A more thorough ABC News/Health report yesterday also neglected to focus on this crucial point.
Overblown statements like the CBS headline are trotted out on a regular basis and quite often are the result of studies paid for by infant food manufacturers. In fact, the paper that news agencies around the world were reporting on, published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, acknowledged that three of the four authors have either "performed consultancy work and/or received research funding from companies manufacturing infant formulas and baby foods within the past 3 years." And while no outside funding was received for this particular paper, it's always a good idea to dig a little deeper in such cases. Here's a quick assessment:
In 2001, the World Health Organization recommended that infants be exclusively breast fed for their first six months of life, a recommendation based on the work of two key health scientists and 16 individual studies. In 2003, the UK took up that standard, with little additional research or review. On Wednesday, four researchers in the UK criticized that move, instead suggesting that solids be introduced to babies at between four and six months. They called for additional studies to back up what they saw as insufficient data on the timing of the introduction of complimentary solids.
What has changed since 2001 to make these researchers suggest such a thing? Essentially, Mary Fewtrell, an honorary consultant pediatrician at the University College London Institute of Child Health, and her three University colleagues appear to have focused on one key piece of literature in working up their recommendation: a scientific opinion paper published in 2009 by the European Food Safety Authority. Inconsistent labeling laws for infant foods sold in the EU, up to that point, led to a thorough study by the EFSA's Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies, which reviewed over 150 scientific papers on the subject of breast feeding and infant nutrition.Continued on the next page