This year, the World Health Organization planned to pass a resolution that should have been a no-brainer. It encouraged governments to "protect, promote, and support breastfeeding," given the overwhelming evidence that breastfeeding is best for the baby's health, reducing the risk of diabetes, obesity, and leukemia, just to name a few.
But surprisingly, the Trump administration wasn't on board with that—and created quite a bit of controversy at the recent World Health Organization assembly. The U.S. delegation wanted to excise significant parts of the text promoting breastfeeding, and refused to follow the calls to reduce the amount of sugar in baby formulas—particularly those marketed for children over the age of 12 months—according to a press release from Baby Milk Action, an organization that acts to stop misleading marketing by the baby feeding industry.
According to Baby Milk Action, "There is global consensus and concern amongst the world health community that these expensive, sweetened, and flavored milks are not only unnecessary, but that they contribute to childhood obesity, affect the development of a child's taste palate, and undermine breastfeeding."
The U.S. delegation, in support of the interests of baby formula manufacturers, went so far as to threaten economic sanctions against any country that offered to sponsor the resolution—until Russia took up the cause, and the U.S. backed down on most of the changes, according to reports in the New York Times.
After the Times article appeared, President Trump took to Twitter to comment: "The U.S. strongly supports breastfeeding, but we don't believe women should be denied access to formula. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty."
But the resolution would not deny families access to formula—it would just limit the promotion of formula that can be harmful to young children. And some experts were concerned that food and infant formula manufacturers may have played a role in trying to influence opposition for the resolution, as trends toward breastfeeding have reduced the number of new moms using formula in many wealthy countries. (Though Euromonitor still expects that global formula sales will rise by 4 percent this year.)
"Nestle, and the Grocery Makers Association publicly spoke out against the measure at the Health & Human Services public listening session," tweeted Lucy M. Sullivan, executive director of Thousand Days, an organization helping to break the cycle of hunger and poverty by championing better nutrition for women and children. "We know corporate interests stood against it."
This seems right in line with other shifts in U.S. policy under the Trump administration, such as rolling back school lunch rules that reduced the amount of sodium, required schools to use whole grains for at least half of foods like pasta and breads, and required flavored milks to be fat free. They're also pushing for the updated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to limit the types of health warnings the U.S., Canada, and Mexico can put on junk food, soda or other sugar-filled drinks.
The Trump administration's decision to embrace corporate interest in this way could largely impact the health of American families. "Over 800,000 babies' lives could be saved as a result of improved breastfeeding rates [supported by the resolution]," Sullivan tweeted. That's a lot that's at stake.