Breastfeeding Medicine

Physicians blogging about breastfeeding

Conflict of Interest: The connections between ABC News, Dr. Beard, & Nestle

with 17 comments

As many of you already know, a recent Harvard study by Bartick and Reinhold, showed the cost savings and lives saved if babies were breastfed exclusively for 6 months.   Especially in this era of health care reform, it’s tremendously important that breastfeeding (which doesn’t cost any money) could actually save the US health care system $13 billion dollars per year!

Most of the media coverage regarding the statistics was positive, including reports from media outlets such as  CNN and CBS News.

However, as with many studies, especially those showing the benefits of breastfeeding, there were a few who challenged or disregarded the impressive findings.  One of the detractors of the study was Dr. Lillian Beard, a pediatrician and professor at GWU and Howard Universities.  Instead of looking at the cost-savings, instead, she focused on the COSTS of breastfeeding during an interview on ABC News.

She is quoted as saying

“The biggest barrier to mothers continuing to breastfeed seems to be the fact that more mothers are in the workplace. It’s a very impressive number,” she said of the $13 billion estimate, “but I want to know: Did the study take into account the cost for breastfeeding mothers?” She goes onto say, “I think this report puts an unfair slant on it. It’s not taking into account that for almost two-thirds of U.S. families, women are either the co-breadwinner or the breadwinner. Returning to work is germane for the survival of the family.”

Many in the lactation community, including ABM, Best for Babes, Blactating.com, and the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog all questioned why a medical professional from the pediatric community would question the study findings.  And why did ABC choose Dr. Beard to respond to the study findings, instead of using their own medical correspondent?

It turns out that ABC Family has teamed up with infant formula giant Nestle for several commercial promotions and sweepstakes.    Furthermore, Dr. Lillian Beard, Professor of Pediatrics, sits on the Nestle Board and is one of their paid speakers!! Luckily, via the internet, including the very active ABM Facebook page, ABC and Dr. Beard’s connections to Nestle were exposed and addressed rapidly.

Jerry Calnen, ABM President, addressed these concerns in a letter to ABC News:

To: Mr. David Westin, President, ABC News

Mr. Joseph Brownstein, Reporter, ABC News

We are contacting you to raise our concern about an inappropriate “expert” cited in your recent coverage of some very important research. 
 
In the article, “Study: Not Breastfeeding Costs U.S. Billions Each Year,” by Mr. Brownstein and published on April 5, 2010, ABC News failed to disclose the formula company backing of the “expert” pediatrician.   The article skewed coverage of a recent peer-reviewed study on breastfeeding, extensively quoting a physician with ties to formula manufacturers.
 
The study found that low breastfeeding rates in the US incur $13 billion in excess costs, as well as over 900 excess infant deaths per year. 
 
In the article, Dr. Lillian Beard questions the study’s findings. ABC News did not report that Dr. Beard serves on the advisory board for Nestle Family and has participated in multiple marketing campaigns for Nestle’s infant formula products.
 
Dr. Beard’s ties to the formula industry are a clear conflict of interest.  Readers deserve to know when a reporter is quoting an industry spokesperson.   ABC News failed to mention Beard’s industry ties, identifying her only as an associate professor of pediatrics in Washington, DC. 
 
Dr. Beard’s industry backing came to light when several web sites, including Best for Babes, Blacktating and the Motherwear Blog, drew attention to ABC’s skewed coverage. 
 
In the future, please take into account physicians’ formula industry ties before reporting on breastfeeding as they promote formula as the best recommended alternative which is in clear contrast to the WHO’s declaration of formula as a mother’s last resort.

Sincerely,

Jerry Calnen
-President
, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine

I, along with many others, find ABC’s coverage reprehensible on so many levels. It is not surprising that ABC did not reveal its corporate relationship with Nestle, but it is irresponsible.  However, what I find most disturbing is that Dr. Lillian Beard, a pediatrician and health professional who is supposed to be promoting what’s best for the baby and mother, has ties to the infant formula industry and uses her authority as a physician to publicly discredit a study that clearly shows the numerous benefits of breastfeeding.

Luckily, through the advocacy of the online lactation community, the conflict of interest was exposed and addressed within a matter of days.  However, we must be continue to be vigilant in our efforts to bring to light continued relationships between health professionals/societies and infant formula companies.

Natasha K. Sriraman is a general pediatrician and a professor of Pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters/Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA.


Written by NKSriraman

April 20, 2010 at 3:45 pm

17 Responses

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  1. Just curious, I may be wrong but I thought that Gerber recently bought the Good Start Brand from Nestle?

    Tina

    April 20, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    • Jenna

      April 21, 2010 at 8:45 am

    • I am so glad that this was caught. Why woudl you ever NOT encourage BFing? Oh, and BTW, what “cost” to a BFing mother? Was she implying that you can’t return to work and continue to BF? I, and many thousands of women, would disagree. (My 2nd is 2 and still BF’s on demand)

      Patty Clarke

      April 30, 2010 at 8:13 am

  2. Nice job on an important topic Natasha. I think that “disclosure” will continue to be a very hot topic and that the Physician Sunshine Act, if it passes, will aid in learning which physicians have accepted money from pharma companies. I think we need to advocate that the Sunshine Act also includes formula company payments to physicians…disclosure and transparency in order to get unbiased information to those who need it.

  3. Thanks, ABM for taking this on. Great!! This needed to be said!

    Melissa Bartick

    April 20, 2010 at 8:38 pm

  4. Dear Dr. Sriraman,

    This is a wonderful effort. We, the physicians should keep ourselves free of the conflict of interest. Though money speaks louder but there is something called conscience which should be kept clear from any commercial pressure. Bravo to ABM and people like you to speak with courage.

    JP Dadhich, New Delhi, India

    JP Dadhich

    April 21, 2010 at 1:38 am

  5. [...] I read an article disclosing the conflict of interest between Dr. Lillian Beard, who ABC interviewed in regards to [...]

  6. [...] And speaking of formula and advertising… there no depth to which some of these large, unscrupulous companies will not sink… This actually made my jaw drop. Wow. http://bfmed.wordpress.com/2010/04/2…-beard-nestle/ [...]

  7. Dr Lillian Beard is entitled to have her own opinion on merits of breastfeeding, inspite being a trained pediatrician, but it is improper on her part not to disclose her association with the formula industry and use her authority and position as professor of pediatrics, to question the findings of the study. The ABC News has also committed impropriety.
    Those who are sincerely concerned with the quality child survival, deserve big pat for exposing this belated efforts of the formula industry to undermine known and yet not-known benefits of breastfeeding.

    Dr M.M.A.Faridi

    April 23, 2010 at 8:58 am

  8. I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case, great info…I will bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

    Desire Iino

    April 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm

  9. [...] of the Above Conflict of Interest; the connections between abc news, Dr. Beard and Nestle April 29th, 2010 | Category: 2010, [...]

  10. Thank you for standing up and exposing this critical information. I am grateful for resources like this.

    Bianca Whitaker

    April 29, 2010 at 2:55 pm

  11. Thanks for bringing this to light. I do with people would quit calling the stuff “formula” though, because that imbues it with a scientific glamour it does not deserve. The stuff is FAKE MILK. Artificial. Lowers IQ. If parents realized that, maybe feeding it to babies wouldn’t be as attractive. There are other, real options for feeding babies that don’t involve this highly-processed mess.

    Tracey R

    April 30, 2010 at 7:30 am

  12. Dr. Beard was my former pediatrician and is currently my sons pediatrician. Just to let you know regardless of Dr. Beards affiliations with Nestle/Gerber, she is still an advocate for breatfeeding, however we all need to realize that breastfeeding may not be an option for everyone. It definitely wasn’t in my case, so as a pediatrician it was her job to help me find a healthy alternative….So before you go jumping down her back, please take a minute to think that if you couldn’t BF for whatever reason, wouldn’t you want a supportive doctor who could help you look for alternatives!! She was not saying to H*LL with BF so that you would go out and buy NESTLE, she was providing her opinion on the “cost” to moms who BF…and let’s face it, there is a “cost” associated with being a mom period, whether you work in the home or outside of it…Mom’s carry a weight on their shoulders unlike any other…

    PatientofDrB

    September 20, 2010 at 9:58 am

  13. abc news is of course one of the most reputable news sources these days :.~

  14. [...] is hard to know where to start.  Especially on the heels of our disappointment with ABC News, and more dirt on their ties with industry, I think it is really important to give a huge shout out to CBS for getting breastfeeding right, [...]


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