Is that newborn on a diet?

This week’s New York Times magazine included a piece from the idea lab about research that is being done ways to prevent obesity in newborns. The piece explains that the study of obesity (a disease that affects almost a third of the US population) focuses on lifestyle and genetic causes, but researchers are beginning to look into a third area as well, what they call “developmental programming.� This idea proposes that “like many aspects of our physiology, [obesity] can be traced to the months just before and after birth, when the brain and other organs are still fine-tuning themselves.�
Statements like these frighten me, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, I get scared because the implications seem to further burden the pregnant woman—not only is she already freaked out by all the things that could go “wrong� during her pregnancy (there are a million and one books telling her exactly what to eat, how to live, what to avoid), but now we can scare her with another proposition, that if her child later develops obesity, it’s her fault. The article references a few conditions in utero that might have negative effects: the “thermal environment� or stress hormones in the mother. Of course appetite and metabolism are two things they also think are developed during this phase of development.
The main scientists researching these possibilities are trying to develop an infant formula that would “program babies’ metabolisms to provide permanent resistance to excess pounds.� The author takes this one step further—that this formula could turn these children into one of those people (you know, that we all hate) who can eat whatever they want and not gain an ounce. Forget breast milk ladies—now we’ve got trimspa for the three month olds.
Beyond the scary implications of this kind of manipulation at such an early age—is this really what we want for our children? This kind of intervention assumes that excess weight is the only marker for an unhealthy body, which we know is not true. What about skinny fat? Even someone with what is considered a “normalâ€? weight can have other health problems related to diet and exercise–high blood pressure, blocked arteries and high cholesterol. If weight gain is no longer a motivator for healthy eating, will we give in altogether? Also, we need fat, in certain amounts, it lines our organs and plays an important role in our body function.
The real scary sentiment is at the end of this piece where the author implies that the unhealthy eating habits “oceans of soda, mountains of baked goods and sparkling glaciers of ice cream� are an inevitable part of our society—so maybe it’s easier to change our babies than to change our habits.

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69 Comments

  1. katie
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    i am not sure why we cant just focus on being healthy without weight coming into it. however, the fact of the matter is that obesity is a serious problem in this country, whether people want to admit it or not. i also have to say that while i know healthy can come in all shapes and sizes, the whole “skinny fat” phenomenon is far less common then the fat fat phenomenon. which is to say, i think it should be pretty clear that most people who are considered obese truly are unhealthy. that being said it would be nice for people to realize that health comes in a range of shapes and sizes. however by no means should we deny this obesity problem in our country in the name of feminism. it saddens me that i see that as pretty common in the feminist community. i do think we need to go about it a different way in terms of solving it though.

  2. era4allNOW
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    As one of those “skinny fat people” (plz don’t hate, i really didn’t get to choose! I just have a gorgeous mother!) I wonder what the consequences are of a formula that limits ability to gain weight. I know people even worse than me who eat eat eat and WANT to gain weight but can’t. Could this cause them to unhealthily skinny? You can’t know if a child will have an obesity problem or a “skinny” problem (can’t gain weight). Wonder if they even thought about that flip side.

  3. era4allNOW
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    As one of those “skinny fat people” (plz don’t hate, i really didn’t get to choose! I just have a gorgeous mother!) I wonder what the consequences are of a formula that limits ability to gain weight. I know people even worse than me who eat eat eat and WANT to gain weight but can’t. Could this cause them to be unhealthily skinny? You can’t know if a child will have an obesity problem or an under-weight problem – both i know aren’t good. Wonder if they even thought about that flip side.

  4. katie
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    thats a good point chell belle, although i think it may be a case of the fact that there are more overweight people who are unhealthy then people who look healthy but arent. i think if we just fvocvused on what is healthy for you then that would eliminate the problem altogether. bc people make it about weight when it shouldnt necessarily be.

  5. Nicole
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Who wouldn’t want to be one of those people who can eat anything they want and not gain an ounce? Is it too late for me to have some of that formula?

  6. LindsayPW
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I work at a retail store and every day families come through my check out line. Pretty much every time a child comes through with their parents they beg and plead and sometimes scream at their parents to buy them the candy or sugary drinks that are in the line. And most of the time the parents give in and let their kid have whatever nonhealthy food item they choose. I think parents need to really start focusing on healthy eating and stop just feeding their kid sweets every time it squeals. It’s really annoying how easily these parents just give in. But I don’t have kids yet and haven’t had to deal with a screaming 3 year old that wants sweets. So maybe I’m a little biased.
    But yeah, it’s ridiculous how they’re blaming this on women. When I’m pregnant I won’t drink or smoke, but damnit I will eat or drink or whatever else I want and no one better fuck with me.

  7. Cola
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Damn! Another magic bullet revealed to be a pipe dream!
    Confound you feministing! You guys have got to stop dashing my dreams of getting something for nothing!

  8. Cola
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Additionally, my mom hates sweets. She never eats pastries or candy or ice cream, but when she was pregnant with me she ate them all the time.
    And strangely, I have an insatiable sweet tooth, despite not having many sweets after I was born.

  9. Ank
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I think it is important to dissociate science from politics. Regardless of the social/political aspects of the above research, and regardless of the fact that “fat shaming” is terrible, obesity is indeed a serious health concern in America – which is to say that yes, we need to work on changing societal attitudes towards overconsumption, but at the same time, if there is a safe, tested, proven way to nip the tendency for obesity during infancy, why is it scary?
    I don’t see this as “blaming the woman”. Unhealthy foods are just as dangerous to human bodies as cigarette smoke and alcohol.
    Fundies often try to suppress science/ scientific research when it doesn’t fit their world view. Let us not fall into the same trap. The statements made by Michael Cawthorne, in the article, are the statements of a scientist who is discussing results of his research and his ideas. Those are not socio-political comments and let us not treat them as such.

  10. Ank
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Beyond the scary implications of this kind of manipulation at such an early age—is this really what we want for our children?
    That is a good question. In the end, the research being done might be useless if we can change our habits instead of pre-birth intervention. However, if one finds that changing our habits is too difficult, then this could still, perhaps someday with adequate testing and much more research, be a good tool.
    This kind of intervention assumes that excess weight is the only marker for an unhealthy body, which we know is not true.
    I think that is a false assumption on your part. This intervention is not seeking to prevent ALL sources of unhealthiness and NOWHERE does it say that excess weight is the only indicator of bad health. What it DOES say is that excess weight could be an indicator for bad health, and that this might be, someday, an effective way of preventing that.

  11. Posted August 6, 2007 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Arglebargle.
    “if there is a safe, tested, proven way to nip the tendency for obesity during infancy, why is it scary?”
    Because I do not believe the formula industry, or the diet industry, when they try to tell me what is healthy; their track record is, shall we say, less than good.
    If we want to address obesity, then we just have to stop with the shaming already. It is not something that is completely under an obest person’s control. Or they wouldn’t be so many of them.
    There are so many contributing factors that should be dealt with before we fucking put infants and pregnant women on diet formulas that do God knows what to your body long term.
    For example: stop allowing high fructose corn syrup in everything we eat (it’s even in canned vegetables, for God’s sake). Or how about banning plastics like bisphenol-A (used in most baby bottles!) that are hormone disruptors and have also been shown to have some effect in increasing obesity. Or maybe requiring more mixed-use building and sidewalks so that cars are not necessary to go to the drugstore, and people have the option to walk. Or how about giving grocery store chains and farmer’s markets incentives to open in poor neighborhoods so that poor people (many of whom are obese) aren’t limited to the white bread and Doritos that is all the drugstore carries?
    Addressing any of these issues would help obesity levels for all people, and have the benefit of not introducing a new set of powerful chemicals into an infant’s brain and body when they are most vulnerable. Or into the mother’s body, come to that.
    Breast milk is absolutely better for children than the best formula–formula is just a barely acceptable substitute, in that it does not give a child everything breastmilk does, and the fact that breastfeeding is becoming more popular leads me to wonder why all of a sudden slimming formula is getting all the news.

  12. Jessi
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    if there is a safe, tested, proven way to nip the tendency for obesity during infancy, why is it scary?
    You know the phrase “Today’s problems are yesterday’s solutions?”
    The time to prevent obesity in a child is when they are being weaned. Breast milk is (surprise!) GOOD for babies. Have these scientists never wondered that despite the years and years baby formula has been around, presumably being improved all the time, breast-fed kids are still healthier?
    It IS a feminist issue because of what Miriam puts at the end.

    The real scary sentiment is at the end of this piece where the author implies that the unhealthy eating habits “oceans of soda, mountains of baked goods and sparkling glaciers of ice cream� are an inevitable part of our society—so maybe it’s easier to change our babies than to change our habits.

    Anti-fat people always talk about how “it’s okay that I think fat people are disgusting, because it’s unhealthy.” But this sentiment shows that what these scientists are trying to do is NOT create a “healthy” new generation, but simply to create a “skinny” new generation.

  13. Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Obesity is a disease now?

  14. Ank
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    We are not talking about the formula industry here. We are talking about a rather well respected scientist making a statement about his research and the possibilities it creates. This is not a marketing message by “slimfast incorporated”.
    There is not one way to handle obesity. This “my way or the highway” attitude is exactly what frustrates me. We should absolutely stop shaming – but where exactly is the shaming in that article? In fact, the research being talked about here is talking about the SAME thing that you are. Being fat is not always in control of the individual – so this might be a way of enabling them to be healthier (from an obesity perspective) even in situations they cannot control. Or..are you of the opinion that just because obesity is not in control of the individual, it is not a problem for them?
    And yes, I agree that there are many things we can do before we use this approach. Which is why I specifically mentioned that it would have to be tested and adequately researched before it is tried. But saying that this is outright a bad way without really seeing whether or not it can help is like saying “We shouldn’t do research in trying to extract geothermal energy because there are so many better things we can do – like turning down the AC, and driving hybrid vehicles”. The point is 0 it does not have to be either/or.
    You are automatically assuming that this is a bad way simply because this is a “chemical”. This knee-jerk “all chemicals are bad” attitude is strange to me.
    Also, you are using the phrase “powerful chemical” when we don’t even yet know what the final chemical/treatment will be. it might well be that this is a solution that is used only when all other options are exhausted and scientists might find out that it really isn’t bad for you. Or they might find out that it is really dangerous, and thus, this entire idea will be discarded. At this point, we just don’t know which of the above will happen.
    Prejudging something based on inadequate information seems rather problematic to me.

  15. jeff
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I think it is important to dissociate science from politics.
    I think that’s a really important observation. It’s a completely legitimate fear as to what might be done with the results of this research, but research is rarely condemnable in and of itself – more information tends to be good in the long run, not bad. Responsible citizens gather all of the information possible and then use to it make rational decisions. Legitimate worry about the rational decision-making process shouldn’t cause us to not do research – that’s just letting the morons win.

  16. Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    The main scientists researching these possibilities are trying to develop an infant formula that would “program babies’ metabolisms to provide permanent resistance to excess pounds.�

    UGH!
    Breast milk is the most healthy thing for a baby. These fuckers are messing with nature and putting babies at risk just to make buck. Gross.
    And this, during World Breastfeeding Week:
    http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/
    http://ourbodiesourblog.org/blog/2007/08/breastfeeding_advocates_focus_on_legislation.php

  17. Ank
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    You know the phrase “Today’s problems are yesterday’s solutions?”
    Thankfully, that is not a truism. It is certainly true of many cases, but if one takes that thought to its logical conclusion, then the only ideal state of affairs is pre-civilization humanity. And that is why, I don’t think that phrase can be used as a legitimate argument.

  18. Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    As a pregnant woman, I’m already getting enough crap from perfect strangers about what I should and should not be eating and drinking. I’d hate to see what my day would be like if people felt that it was a “scientific fact” that eating ice cream would make my baby obese. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a problem if our society trusted women instead of infantalizing them, but that day is a long time coming.

  19. SarahMC
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    If you can’t eat ice cream and nachos guilt-free while pregnant… why get pregnant?

  20. Maggie
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I think the problem isn’t going to come from research into the subject, but from the women’s magazines who will invariably pick this up and turn it into “ARE YOU MAKING YOUR BABY FAT???!!” shocker headlines. People are so paranoid about obesity these days that it wouldn’t take much to cause a huge problem in infant nutrition. An (anecdotal) example: A man I go to school with told me about his daughter, whose baby was losing weight and exhibiting just general unhealthfulness. The doctor asked her what she was feeding him. Her response was along the lines of, “Oh, we’re very healthy in our house. He only eats nonfat foods.” The doctor basically ordered her right there to go buy some frigging whole milk. (At least he was getting milk at all – the stories you hear about people putting babies on vegan diets terrify me). The point is that babies have certain nutrition needs, and one of those needs is fat. They’re growing and developing very quickly. They have different metabolisms than adults, and things that are perfectly healthy for adults can be very unhealthy for infants. So yeah, lets do research on how to keep babies, children, and everyone else healthier. But let’s also beware the fat-phobic media frenzy that is going to take this information and turn it into the latest diet food craze.

  21. SarahMC
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    “Oh, we’re very healthy in our house. He only eats nonfat foods.”
    How could anyone be so unaware that babies NEED fat!?

  22. Posted August 6, 2007 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    SarahMC–exactly! :)
    But seriously, someone who sees me eating ice cream has no idea what my eating habits are. And more to the point, it’s not really anyone’s business.
    Although my least favorite part of pregnancy is when I tell people I’m having a boy and they smile and say “Boys are so much easier (or better)! Girls have so much attitude, but a boy will love you.”

  23. lavalady
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I admit it, I didn’t even read the other comments to see if this was a duplicate.
    But it bears repeating:
    OBESITY IS NOT A DISEASE.
    Never was, never will be.

  24. SarahMC
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    People say that? Sheesh. Girls may have attitudes for a while, but when you have a boy you’re more likely to one day be the mother of a criminal!
    [Not directing that at you personally!]

  25. Peepers
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I am way more disturbed that the article implicates maternal stress hormones. There seems to be a lot of inquiry into maternal stress hormones lately. What better way to terrify pregnant women (or those who might become pregnant) into avoiding challenging roles, work, and social involvement?

  26. Posted August 6, 2007 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Zuzu and lavalady, thanks for the reminder about word choice. I didn’t even think about it when I used the word “disease” to talk about obesity. Either of you want to add more about the reasons it shouldn’t be considered one?
    -Miriam

  27. Posted August 6, 2007 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    At least half the time, that’s the response I get. I always say “That’s odd, my mother certainly never felt that way.” What really strikes me as fucked up is that it is ALWAYS women who say that.
    Peepers, the maternal stress hormones are a big issue for me right now. I certainly noticed a significant increase in fetal movement when I took a week’s vacation last week after a horrifically stressful two weeks at work. There are a lot of reasons why that might be, but my gut tells me that I was overstressing and it was affecting the fetus. Although I don’t think the fear of stress should ever stop a woman from fully participating in any given sphere of life, I do think pregnant women are at risk for much higher levels of stress–in addition to the considerable physical stress of pregnancy, you’re often dealing with frantic worries about the health of the fetus, your health, your finances, and preparing for a maternity leave. While I’d hate to see a woman stressing about being stressed, I do think it is important that women give themselves permission to take a step back and speak up when they feel they are being asked to bite off more than they can chew.

  28. Posted August 6, 2007 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Ank, what you don’t seem to understand is that there is a reason certain research gets publicized and other does not. And as we live in a society that still makes a full-time practice of shaming women, particularly mothers, as well as having a hypocritical, hysterical attitude towards fat that has much more to do with bias than with health, my default skepticism is entirely justified.
    If you looked into formulas and breast milk history at all, you would know that there is, quite frankly, still a great deal of ignorance on the subject of what is even in breast milk and why it’s good for the baby. Also shameful episodes in which formula manufacturers sold substandard product (Nestle in Africa) that caused a great deal of suffering. Breast feeding is free, but you can make a profit with formula, and that is tied to the sudden decision by doctors several decades ago to tell women to stop breast feeding and buy “better” more “scientific” formula. Despite it still, even today, just being not as good for babies.
    And if you’ll notice, I did not recommend *one* approach to fighting obesity (which I would actually call fighting nutritional poverty; obese people are also often undernourished). I proposed several.
    People want a magic bullet, and too many of them don’t give a damn what it does to a developing child, and yes, I’m angry about it. An anti-obesity formula comes with a huge number of risks; improving our food supply, on the other hand, is far less likely to hurt an infant or bankrupt his mom who buys formula at 25.00 a can. Or more.

  29. l3j
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    The author takes this one step further—that this formula could turn these children into one of those people (you know, that we all hate) who can eat whatever they want and not gain an ounce.
    Why is it okay to hate people with that sort of a metabolism? If you want to be okay with overweight body types, it seems you need to also be okay with “average” and underweight body types.
    I used to have one of those metabolism where no matter what I ate I never gained a pound. I was also incredibly underweight. I put up with my peers saying things like “god I hate you, you never get fat… it’s so annoying how you can eat anything” for years, and it wasn’t terribly pleasant. You know what’s annoying? Having everyone focused on your body, which I’m sure people of all body types can attest to.
    On the other side I’d have the concerned people who decided I had an eating disorder and thought they should “help” me. People who barely knew me, knew nothing about my eating habits, health, etc. BTW, f you tell someone that has decided you have an eating disorder that you don’t have one, they will never believe you. You’re just in denial. They think they know more by looking at you than your doctor or your family.
    We’re all different, and we all have our own issues, which are our own business. Disliking someone because they appear to have something you wish you had, or because you don’t like the way they look is unbelievably petty.

  30. Posted August 6, 2007 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    The author takes this one step further—that this formula could turn these children into one of those people (you know, that we all hate) who can eat whatever they want and not gain an ounce. Forget breast milk ladies—now we’ve got trimspa for the three month olds.

    The NY Times author uses this seductive formulation, but the next paragraph, which explains the science, is really scary:

    As far-fetched as this sounds — another British biochemist has called it “science fiction� — it is based on emerging knowledge about how appetite and metabolism are regulated. The hormone leptin appears to act very early in life to program the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain that helps keep food intake and energy expenditure in balance. By influencing the set points at which the hypothalamus suppresses hunger and stimulates calorie-burning activity, leptin may increase the body’s long-term tendency to use up calories rather than conserve them as fat.

    I’m no scientist, but it sounds like we are talking about regulating a baby’s appetite. Babies–even after they wean–need a lot of fat in their diets–among other things for brain development. It sounds to me like this baby formula product will play on parents’ fears and cause them to mess with their babies’ appetites. This sounds profoundly wrongheaded and dangerous. Babies need to eat; a baby’s appetite is a signal of what it needs nutritionally. Modifying a baby’s appetite sounds to me like a recipe for disaster.

  31. Mina
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    “Who wouldn’t want to be one of those people who can eat anything they want and not gain an ounce?”
    Someone who is now dangerously underweight wouldn’t want to be like that, I bet.
    “‘Oh, we’re very healthy in our house. He only eats nonfat foods.’
    “How could anyone be so unaware that babies NEED fat!?”
    Lemme guess, someone who thinks all weight gain is evil…even when (or if) he or she expects his or her child to gain height?
    “I’m no scientist, but it sounds like we are talking about regulating a baby’s appetite. Babies–even after they wean–need a lot of fat in their diets–among other things for brain development. It sounds to me like this baby formula product will play on parents’ fears and cause them to mess with their babies’ appetites. This sounds profoundly wrongheaded and dangerous. Babies need to eat; a baby’s appetite is a signal of what it needs nutritionally. Modifying a baby’s appetite sounds to me like a recipe for disaster.”
    Good point.

  32. Nicole
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    “Obesity is a disease now?”
    It depends on who you ask, but it’s no fun to be obese. Can’t we all agree that the vast majority of people would rather be thin than overweight?

  33. Ank
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    emjaybee, no offence, but I don’t think this is a question of what research gets published and what doesn’t. it is more a question of whether or not it is right to immediately frame said research in an “us versus them” framework.
    In the end, the article is about a piece of research that does NOT directly pertain to the baby formula industry (yet), so I am not sure why that is relevant.
    At this point in time, it is only relevant in a research context. By the time this product is available to the public (which appears to be quite far in the future), if indeed it is used/marketed in the “woman shaming” way you mention, then i can agree with you.On the flip side, it is also possible that this product is sold not as baby formula, but as a medically recommended treatment for certain genetic types which are predisposed towards obesity. We just don’t KNOW what shape the products will take if any.
    But I cannot agree with automatically criticizing something that is, in essence, a research project at least a decade away from creating real products. Again, science is sometimes, an end in itself, and I strongly feel we should let scientific research be independent of politics and business. Yes, this is a naive and idealistic point of view, seeing as so much science is funded by corporations, but having spent a lot of time in the scientific community, at least my experience has been that a majority of scientists perform research out of the love for science, and not because of some hidden political agenda or financial interest. And thus, I find problematic the denunciation, based on an article sparse in details, of research which could prove beneficial in the end.
    In any case, your assertion that publicity of certain pieces of research is driven by businesses and politics might be true. But then, your quibble should be against the media, not the research, or the actual process being described.

  34. Andrea
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    It depends on who you ask, but it’s no fun to be obese. Can’t we all agree that the vast majority of people would rather be thin than overweight?
    Because obviously, if you weigh more than what is “normal”, there’s obviously something wrong with you and you should try your damndest to *not* be that way?
    Speaking as a fat person, there are things I try to do to be healthy, but I get really tired of the automatic assumption that because I’m a size 18, I must be eating a salad for lunch in order to get to a size 6, as opposed to be cause I’m craving veggies and they’re, y’know good for me. I know that’s a subtle distinction, but a lot of this blog in general is about being sick of a patriarchal world project its assumptions onto women. Please don’t project your assumptions onto fat people.
    it is also possible that this product is sold not as baby formula, but as a medically recommended treatment for certain genetic types which are predisposed towards obesity.
    So… if a fat woman starts visiting an obstetrician, she will be targeted for this “treatment”, regardless of whether or not her circulatory system is healthy? What about a skinny person with high blood pressure and a weak heart? Would they be targeted?
    The problem I have with this is that it will be specifically target toward people who are larger than normal, without any thought given to actual bodily *health*. And that basically goes back to the conflation of health and size and the assumptions projected by “normal-sized” people onto fat people. Which is inherently shaming.

  35. apricotmuffins
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    It depends on who you ask, but it’s no fun to be obese. Can’t we all agree that the vast majority of people would rather be thin than overweight?
    The main reason why a vast majority would rather be thin is the social stigma that comes with being larger. I know i wouldnt have a single problem with my size (smack in the middle of ‘overweight’ according to the BMI scale) If society didnt make a fuss. I kind of LIKE my size until Im reminded that Im not ‘ideal’ for whatever reason.
    There are many, many obese people out there who are otherwise completely healthy. Its the ridicule, the lack of acceptance, the difficulty of finding decent clothes, of coping with a world designed for people much thinner than them that make being obese unbearable. That does not make it a disease.
    And I think that this milk formula thing is really scary. Its not as though its a way to prevent cancer, its messing with peoples systems to ‘cure’ a natural diversity in humans. To alter something as delicate as the bodies response to nutritional intake when it isnt even broken is madness, not to mention dangerous.

  36. emcegg
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Maggie wrote:
    “Oh, we’re very healthy in our house. He only eats nonfat foods.” The doctor basically ordered her right there to go buy some frigging whole milk. (At least he was getting milk at all – the stories you hear about people putting babies on vegan diets terrify me).
    Maggie,
    Healthy babies can be raised on a vegan diet. Human breast milk is always optimal – I mean, duh, that’s why we lactate – but cow’s milk is not a healthy option for infants or children. Biologically, humans are not meant to drink the milk of another animal. Babies have sensitive digestive systems that can’t process cow’s milk. Feeding your baby cow’s milk can cause serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies and harm the digestive tract. Plus, conventionally produced cow’s milk contains pesticides, hormones, and other chemical contaminants.
    Formula presents its own set of troubles. As EmJayBee mentioned, corn syrup is in everything, including infant formula. Enfamil, for example, contains corn syrup solids as its second ingredient! People wonder why obesity among children is on the rise, but few seem to be reading the labels of the food they purchase – not only for themselves, but for their children as well. This is always the first and most crucial step to understanding nutrition. You have to know what you’re eating.

  37. Posted August 6, 2007 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    ‘Scuse me if I rant here. It is a Healthy People 2000 (now Healthy People 2010) goal to improve breastfeeding rates in this country, which are deplorable. Why why why would they use formula to attempt to reduce obesity? Considering the OVERWHELMING advantages to the mother and baby of breastfeeding, why would they want to encourage mothers to give formula?
    If this is the same research I have heard of, they neglect to mention that the additive they are seeking to add to formula already occurs in breastmilk. So, again, they are not making something better than breastmilk. They are attempting to copy it, imperfectly, and are trying to pass it off as better, and charge for it.
    Crap, all of it.

  38. Posted August 6, 2007 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    And yes, Ank, in a way, this IS blaming the woman. Just like women are convinced in this society everyday that they cannot and should not give birth naturally because they are not capable of it and they should let the patriarchal medical community take care of it for them, the medical community has been (successfully, in many cases) trying to convince women that the breastmilk they make isn’t good enough.

  39. Maggie
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    “Modifying a baby’s appetite sounds to me like a recipe for disaster.”
    No kidding. A friend of mine, now a mother of 3, learned early on that, for the most part, if she let her toddler eat basically whatever he wanted (within reason), he would operate on about a two-week cycle in which he eventually got all the things he needed. One day he only wants carbs, one day he only want fruit/veggies, etc.
    Emcegg:
    My major problem with putting babies on vegan diets is that a.) babies are made to drink breast milk (vast generalization, totally acknowledging that this doesn’t always work), and b.) most of the vegans that I know haven’t properly researched even their own diets, and are often very anemic as a result. I wouldn’t trust a child to them. Basically, if you’re going to have a child, regardless of what kind of diet you give them, it should be researched, or at the very least discussed with a doctor. None of this “nonfat” stuff. :)

  40. Posted August 6, 2007 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and for the people arguing that this is simply a case of treating obesity (Wouldn’t we all rather not be obese?) – obesity has SKYROCKETED since formula became popular. Obesity is not due to breastfeeding babies. Formula is not a cure for breastfeeding induced obesity, which does not exist.

  41. Posted August 6, 2007 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    I actually know quite a few mothers who would LIKE to, but can’t, breastfeed. Mostly because they have other medical conditions that require drugs that come out in the breast milk. Remember: breast milk isn’t quite as good if you’re on lupus medications, or taking chemo meds. And though this may be less common of a maternal concern, a variety of recreational drugs also come through AFAIK. If you’re a lowgrade alcoholic and you can manage to avoid nursing when you’re plastered that may be a good thing. Aaaaand, some babies are allergic to breast milk (yup, I know one of those, or is it two?) and there are certainly other reasons.
    Breast milk is great stuff and all our kids were fed that way, but formula will aways be with us. And though there is a lot to the evil Nestle-like tactics, some of the need for formula is REAL. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
    In terms of the obesity thing… well, it’s only science. Which (as an ex-scientist) I believe is fairly independent of politics, at least at this stage. If parents gain the ability to control their children’s morbid obesity, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing. It IS, after all, an attempt to mimic nature. Which is useful if you’ve got to take a substitute.
    And sure: if I could keep my kids from developing type II diabetes or having heart attacks when they were 65, I’d be all over that, too.
    Finally, since this is a feminist blog, I’d like to point out that breastfeeding and gender equity are often at odds. There’s nothing that we can change about pregnancy. But breastfeeding extends the gender inequity for a very, very, long time after birth.
    It’s worth it from a pure health standard. But it’s not always clear it’s the “best” choice from a “where will your kid be in 20 years” view that include politics, socialization, income, etc.
    Most of the couples I know who don’t breastfeed have found it much, much, easier to share childcare and accommodate the mother’s desire to travel, work, etc. Pumping is OK, but frozen milk is nowhere as simple as premade, sterilized no-fridge-required, available-in-any-supermarket, formula.

  42. Ank
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I am sorry, but we will have to agree to disagree here. I don’t think a scientist talking about his research is “woman blaming” or “fat shaming” – and there might be a very real possibility that he is on to something. Bashing research/science is not a stance I expected to find among readers of a liberal blog.

  43. dhsredhead
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    I think this is a very very bad idea, anything that changes an infants natural body chemistry is not a good idea. There are reasons why people are fat or overweight. In times when the earth was alot colder, that extra layer of fat helped human beings survive. While being overweight, especially extremely overweight can effect health, it doesn’t always cause death. Honestly all people living on the planet now are living 10-60 years longer then people did during earlier times in human history. Overweight or normal weight, humans are doing pretty good health wise compared to hundreds of years ago. I fear alot of this stems more from our societies outlook that being overweight is unattractive more then it has to do with health reasons. I could easily see a anorexic or constantly dieting mom, even an overweight mom wrongly putting her child on this kind of formula, with horrible consequences. What is the child happened not to inherit the “fat” genes they so feared? What if instead they naturally inherited “skinny” genes and were then put on this kind of formula? What would happen to children who were a normal weight in a underweight society? Also what happened to loving a child or person unconditionally regardless of their weight? Why can’t we accept our children and other human beings as is?
    Also I think it’s fairly easy to change our child rearing habits to produce children who can better control their food intake. For example, bottle feed babies are often overfed, but their weights are considered normal. Breastfeeding babies, who can control their intake of food are often considered “underweight” even if they are developing skills much quicker then their formula fed counterparts. Even breastfeeding mothers are not allowed to rely on their instincts to take care of their children. Instead they are told to supplement with formula, wake babies up for feedings, give babies vitamins, give solid foods at a certain age, wean early. Even the most nature of human processes when it comes to infant feeding has been altered in our society. There is alot of blaming the mother if there is something “wrong” with the child, even if it’s the fault of genetics, our society, over zealous doctors or other influences.
    Also I strongly disagree that a vegan child cannot be raised in a healthy manner. I’m a vegetarian, my boyfriend is not, but we have both agreed not to rush it when it comes to giving her dairy and meat. I breastfeed her, so she is getting everything she could possibly get from dairy from me instead. A wide variety of fruits, veggies and grains has everything thing a human being of any age needs to survive. Even if a vegan is not educated about nutrition, if they have soy in their diet they should not be concerned. Soy has more protein then most meats and equal amounts of omega three fatty acids. Grains and leafy green vegetables can provide enough iron and calcium. Animal fats are also known to cause cancer, block the absorption of important vitamins and minerals, also meat can contain higher levels of toxins. A vegan or vegetarian diet is probably much better for a child then one filled with meat, especially a child who is breastfed and receiving most of what they need from their mother.
    Whether a child is underweight or overweight doctors can wrongly assume this is a problem. As long as the child is growing and developing normally there is little proof that a small baby will be a small adult or a fat baby a fat adult. My boyfriend was a small baby and is an overweight adult.

  44. Magic Roundabout
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Being fat is not inherently unhealthy.
    “One third of Americans are obese” sounds shocking until you realise that the headless fatties used to illustrate nearly every obesity scare story are actually only about TWO PERCENT of the population. Most “technically obese” people (ie, BMI 30-35) could just about be considered “chubby” or “curvy” if you looked at them. (See again handy reference photograph at Kate Harding’s excellent blog.)

  45. anorak
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    I agree dhsredhead, that babies and children can definitely be raised vegan or vegetarian and be healthy.
    There are alot of myths about vegan/vegetarian diets, but if you know what you’re doing, they can be delicious and much healthier than meat-heavy diets.
    The website veganlunchbox.com has alot of great vegan recipes. (I’m not vegan myself, only vegetarian, but I think eating less fleshfoods is the way of the future!)

  46. emcegg
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Maggie,
    Who said human breastmilk isn’t vegan? That is absolutely ridiculous. Of course breastmilk is the best (and most natural) choice.

  47. Posted August 6, 2007 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    But what will we use to feed the diet baby formula to our babies? Cancer-causing baby bottles? /snark
    Boy, don’t you just love capitalism? Instead of trying to cure cancer or AIDS, they’ve got these researchers working on diet baby formula, a product which will certainly be less healthy for babies than breastmilk, but will probably be marketed as if it were superior.

  48. Posted August 6, 2007 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Zuzu and lavalady, thanks for the reminder about word choice. I didn’t even think about it when I used the word “disease” to talk about obesity. Either of you want to add more about the reasons it shouldn’t be considered one?
    Is being average weight considered a disease? Underweight?
    Obesity is just a category based on BMI. It’s not a disease in and of itself. Considering how much hyperventilating the media does about the obesity crisis, it’s not that hard to pathologize it.
    But that still doesn’t make it a disease.

  49. mhothatch
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    argh – i couldn’t even get to the bottom of the comments so if i’m late on a point sorry…
    breast milk is produced for a reason. unfortunately i’m a bit paranoid any time “science” and “research” comes out with another reason to take your baby off the boob and give them a steam sanitized bottle with machine vomit in it.
    i have a fair amount of large people in my family (my dad is a jolly 300 pounder plus)and i’ve managed to dodge that bullet – i think it’s because, although i love my father’s cooking, i don’t prescribe to the butter, cream, fat fat fat cooking that i ate the entire time i was growing up – luckily as a little kid the fatty foods were offset by “ghost in the graveyard”, football games and rousing tennis ball baseball games in the vacant lot until the street lights came on. hmmm… obesity is a problem – maybe it’s because we’re too afraid to let our kids run the streets a bit like we did – working off the fat instead of sitting inside all summer watching television, playing video games and im’ing…
    i’m not denying that obesity is a problem, but accountability is the answer – not some bull?&^$ formula that gives soon to be mothers more rules and new mothers no choices (if they happen to have “fat” people in their family). I don’t go around saying that my smoking problem has something to do with science – it has to do with addiction and choice. i think, with the lack of research at my fingertips, obesity has a whole bunch to do with the same thing.

  50. mhothatch
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    argh – i couldn’t even get to the bottom of the comments so if i’m late on a point sorry…
    breast milk is produced for a reason. unfortunately i’m a bit paranoid any time “science” and “research” comes out with another reason to take your baby off the boob and give them a steam sanitized bottle with machine vomit in it.
    i have a fair amount of large people in my family (my dad is a jolly 300 pounder plus)and i’ve managed to dodge that bullet – i think it’s because, although i love my father’s cooking, i don’t prescribe to the butter, cream, fat fat fat cooking that i ate the entire time i was growing up – luckily as a little kid the fatty foods were offset by “ghost in the graveyard”, football games and rousing tennis ball baseball games in the vacant lot until the street lights came on. hmmm… obesity is a problem – maybe it’s because we’re too afraid to let our kids run the streets a bit like we did – working off the fat instead of sitting inside all summer watching television, playing video games and im’ing…
    i’m not denying that obesity is a problem, but accountability is the answer – not some bull?&^$ formula that gives soon to be mothers more rules and new mothers no choices (if they happen to have “fat” people in their family). I don’t go around saying that my smoking problem has something to do with science – it has to do with addiction and choice. i think, with the lack of research at my fingertips, obesity has a whole bunch to do with the same thing.

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