Health

Why did the US try to block a UN resolution encouraging breastfeeding?

Why did the US try to block a UN resolution encouraging breastfeeding?

At the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva this past spring, the United States delegation shocked the assembly by opposing breastfeeding regulations that would encourage nations to limit the use of infant formulas and milk substitutes.

When it comes to feeding newborn babies, the science is settled: Breast milk has myriad health benefits that formula simply can’t rival. This became clear in the 1970s, when Nestlé began to aggressively market infant formula in developing countries and running ads implying it was just as good as breast milk.

Unlike formula, however, breast milk provides nursing babies with antibodies to protect from some infectious diseases, such as malaria. As many as 1.5 million babies died across the developing world because they were fed infant formula rather than breast milk.

In 1981, alarm over Nestlé’s advertising campaign led to the International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes. A resolution to strengthen this code was expected to pass easily at a recent meeting of the World Health Assembly. But the US delegation stunned participants by opposing it.