16 January 2011

Public or Vested Interests?

On Friday last, a study was published in the British Medical Journal, from the University of London's Childhood Nutrition Research Centre and two other research centres in Birmingham and Edinburgh, causing widespread concern and confusion for many parents. It appears to fly directly in the face of advice from the World Health Organisation and many other well-respected sources, that babies should ideally be breast-fed until six months old to ensure good health and proper growth. The report seemed to suggest that babies whose parents follow this advice run the risk of harming their baby.

The study was reported on by many newspapers as here in the Independent on Saturday 15th January: http://ind.pn/gHaBS3, The Observer on Sunday 16th January: http://t.co/QqrLU3S and in the Mail Online, a slightly more humorous take by Suzanne Moore: http://bit.ly/hwKOnD. Almost every newspaper carried the story.

Each paper had its own slant on the implications and consequences of such a piece of research being made public. Almost all, however, pointed out the potential effect it could have on the confidence and peace of mind of those who were contemplating breast-feeding their children, as well as those who had or who are now doing so.

When I read the articles about the BMJ report, I'm afraid my first reaction was to wonder who were the researchers behind it. What were their motives in bringing out results of a study which adamantly went against current advice and practice? I was, I'll admit, very sceptical and my suspicions were aroused.

Then, today, I found this :
Analytical Armadillo: Starting Solids - The Facts Behind Today's Media H... http://t.co/U3XvsWS. The following sentence is a part of a very detailed and well-researched article:

"The paper states three of the four authors "have performed consultancy work and/or received research funding from companies manufacturing infant formulas and baby foods within the past three years".

Were my suspicions correct? Is there an ulterior motive for bringing out such a report for at least some of its authors?

Whatever their motivation, the study has caused consternation and doubt for many parents. Is this a money - making scam, playing on the consciences and feelings of responsibility most parents feel?

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is surely yet another case where it would be in the public interest for us to be aware of just who the advice-givers are and whether they have a vested interest in changing commonly - held beliefs!

Rosie Robertson.