Breastfeeding Medicine

Physicians blogging about breastfeeding

What if we realized that food security is homeland security?

with 25 comments

I’m waiting for my flight home from the 1,000 Days U.S. Leadership Roundtable, a spectacular meeting that was held today at the Gates Foundation in Washington, DC. Stakeholders in nutrition and maternal-child health gathered to discuss how we can galvanize support for nutrition during the 1,000 days from conception to age 2. This is the time when our youngest citizens build their bodies and brains, laying the foundation for long-term health. Investing in optimal nutrition during these crucial days improves health and productivity across a lifetime.

For too many of our children, however, this foundation is fractured. Poverty, food insecurity, and commercial pressures prevent moms and babies from achieving their full potential. During the meeting, 1,000 Days executive director Lucy Sullivan shared daunting statistics about the challenges facing children in America. One in eight infants and toddlers in the US lives in deep poverty, defined as less than half the poverty line. Food insecurity affects 20% of families with children under 6. One in 20 children – 5% — experience very low food security, defined as multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake. This food insecurity has lasting consequences, leading to chronic diseases, impaired school performance, and, paradoxically, increased risk of obesity.

Breastfeeding is one of the single best preventive health measures for mothers and children, Sullivan said, but families in poverty are less likely to initiate or sustain breastfeeding. The barrier is not lack of information – it is lack of support and policies that enable mothers to initiate and sustain breastfeeding, especially in areas with high rates of poverty and racial disparities.

How can this be, in one of the wealthiest nations in the world? As one roundtable participant noted, we don’t think of food insecurity as a problem in America, and certainly not as a threat to our nation’s future.

This contrast between homeland and food security became quite literal for me as I arrived at airport security. I dutifully removed my boots, coat, sweater, and scarf and held my arms up for a body scan, and a cadre of security officers inspected my driver’s license and x-rayed my carry-on luggage. My fellow travelers similarly stripped and underwent careful inspection.

AIrport security at DCA

Airport security at DCA

After I reassembled my personal possessions, I walked into the women’s rest room and noticed the “nursing lounge,” a bathroom stall equipped a power outlet, a changing table, and a low bench littered with trash. These were the accommodations for lactating air travelers to express milk.

photo 1

Lactation support at DCA

Lactation secruity at DCA

Now, I recognize that the TSA has a more prominent role in an airport than early childhood nutrition promotion. But the contrast parallels real differences in our commitments as a nation. The total budget authority of the Department of Homeland Security is $60 billion for 2014. WIC’s budget for nutrition education, preventative services, and promotion of immunization and breastfeeding is $1.9 billion.

Perhaps more tellingly, although we may grumble about the inconvenience of placing our liquids, gels and aerosols in quart-sized plastic bags for review, we do it. We all accept that we need to do our part for Homeland Security. What if we were willing to take similar steps to ensure food security for every family? What if we devoted our energy to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty and undernutrition with the same zeal that we’ve tackled the threat of terrorism?

The first 1,000 days are a critical time for growing families. Nutrition and caregiving build the neural scaffolding that will enable a child to grow up, flourish, and thrive. If we continue to relegate 1 in 8 children to deep poverty and food insecurity, we will stunt their physical and emotional health and constrain their horizons. Yet if we commit to invest in families and children, we’ll nourish a generation that will be the leaders and innovators of the future.

The Department of Homeland Security’s vision is “Preserving our freedoms, protecting America …we secure our homeland.” Let’s commit to protect our families, feed our children, and secure our future.

Alison Stuebe, MD, MSc, is a maternal-fetal medicine physician, breastfeeding researcher, and assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. She is a member of the board of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter at @astuebe.

Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.

Written by astuebe

April 7, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Posted in In the news, policy

25 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thanks for being at the U.S. Leadership meeting to be a voice for Breastfeeding! I’m curious about how your discussions at the meeting tied in with the Millenium Development Goals and their implementation in the US, especially when you present the stats re: deep poverty. I see on the 1000 days website mention of ‘post 2015’, but I’m interested in the US applications/implementations. I didn’t see any other info on 1000 days about your leadership meeting — will there be a report/summary available to the public? or other action plans we should consider? THANKS!!!!

    Doraine Bailey, Lexington-Fayette Co. (KY) Health Dept.

    April 8, 2014 at 9:26 am

  2. Food security is also an issue when it comes to disaster relief. If clean water is in short supply, how can mothers safely prepare formula/wash bottles, etc? As we are struck by more natural disasters in the future, the message needs to be that breastfeeding will provide for your baby in a way an outside source will not be able to.


    April 8, 2014 at 9:34 am

  3. Your thoughts while in an airport reminded me that when my son was an infant, we had a flight get cancelled, and the desk agent offered me formula. Turned out he kept a stash, because one time when the whole airport shut down for a snowstorm, they had to send a guy on a four wheeler to buy formula for all the hungry screaming non-nursing babies trapped in the airport with parents who hadn’t anticipated that much of a delay. It doesn’t take a natural disaster to throw the children of even the most affluent parents into food insecurity.

    Thanks for all the hard work you do!


    April 10, 2014 at 11:03 am

  4. I hope your blog gets to the Department of Homeland Security! Thank you for sharing.


    April 10, 2014 at 2:20 pm

  5. Perhaps not completely the focus of your article, but… when I travel to other countries I’m always struck with how mothers breastfeed in public. And no one pays attention – it’s simply a normal part of life. How sad that we feel the need to have things like a dirty ‘nursing lounge’ in a airport bathroom.

    Adventures in Kevin's World

    April 10, 2014 at 2:28 pm

  6. All I know about breast-feeding is that my Mammy fed my new little sister and there was no problem about my watching. I was three. It was 1943, in UK. Mammy carefully washed her breasts. It is all part of how us boys and men, owe it all to the girls and ladies. Thank-you gals. Five children my mother made. By the way, thanks to USA and the other English-speaking rich nations for send those food parcels during and after the war. Paradoxically, war-babies in UK are the still the generation who fared best ever for nutrition. The Ministry of Food under Rationing saw to it. We queued at the distribution center for cod-liver-oil, concentrated orange juice, calcium tablets, iron tablets, malt extract, plus powdered milk and rusks for the baby. Food security consisted of merchant navy ships (more than half sunk during the worst period) bringing cargoes across the Atlantic from North America. How depressing that capitalist profit-first / honor-last greedy-grabbers mass-market junk-food brands. We need no war to deprive our young ones. The love of money works just fine as the root of all evil; Yehoshua was right on that one. Turning the other cheek… discuss another time.

    Cyrus Quick

    April 10, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    • OH Yer! Remember that malt extract and the rusks, delicious. I also read somewhere that the wartime was the healthiest we Brits have ever been.


      April 12, 2014 at 10:57 am

  7. Reblogged this on Ann'sRazzJazz.


    April 10, 2014 at 3:33 pm

  8. As a former recipient of the WIC program I will have to say that I am truly thankful for the emphasis that it places on breastfeeding. Having proper support to breastfeed my children has been a major blessing for myself and my family – and women do need all the support and accommodations they can get in order to do it. Keep up the work to support good homes!

    May Sams

    April 10, 2014 at 11:45 pm

  9. Reblogged this on Milieu de la Moda.

    Milieu de la Moda

    April 11, 2014 at 5:44 am

  10. Reblogged this on NY PC RESCUE.

    NY PC Rescue

    April 11, 2014 at 10:42 am

  11. Reblogged this on What's for dinner, Doc? and commented:
    Food insecurity in our tiniest citizens.


    April 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm

  12. I applaud your work! Thank you for showing the dollars that we willingly give up for “safety” while our babies/children are insecure about one of their basic needs.


    April 11, 2014 at 4:57 pm

  13. You’ve found a great context to express a wide-reaching, under-acknowledged problem. I particularly appreciate your point that, like the inconveniences we accept for the sake of airport security, we need to retrain ourselves to prioritize the success and livelihood of our youngest generations. We need to invest up front to enjoy a healthy return.


    April 11, 2014 at 11:38 pm

  14. Very , very deep thought on this. Thank you for helping me ponder a brand new topic. Truly the spirit of blogging.


    April 11, 2014 at 11:43 pm

  15. Childrens’ nutrition is rightfully the parent’s responsibility. Rich or poor.

    Marc Winger

    April 13, 2014 at 1:56 pm

  16. Reblogged this on magekapama and commented:


    April 13, 2014 at 5:48 pm

  17. Reblogged this on Jeannie Intrieri.

    Jeannie Intrieri

    April 14, 2014 at 6:22 am

  18. Unfortunately, the problem of food insecurity is just another domestic issue that I Think gets feigned over due to “more pressing concerns”.

    You know, the kind of pressing concerns that get politicians funded, but not necessarily the ones that benefit the people who are suffering.

    The problem you’ve pointed out, however, is in dire need of fixing. Not only does it show people are suffering in a society where food should be plentiful, but it’s also hindering the development of tomorrow’s youth.

    Nothing about a child’s economical situation growing up should influence what their maximum potential can be, but the inability to seek the proper nutrition their bodies need to grow will leave them with bleak futures. It’s the worst tragedy of this era.

    Frankly Making Money

    April 14, 2014 at 4:13 pm

  19. Reblogged this on Diana's Kitchen Laboratory.


    April 16, 2014 at 3:00 pm

  20. Reblogged this on The Wrong of the Right and commented:
    Very interesting take on food security, poverty and priorities. Sometimes it’s too natural to look left and right and forget that millions of your fellow citizens don’t have the time or freedom to make the food choices that we do. What would it be like to not have a car and not live within walking distance of a grocery store? What if you really wanted your wife to breast feed, but her employer wouldn’t allow her any time to express her milk while she was there?


    April 19, 2014 at 9:54 am

  21. Reblogged this on Aegis Americana and commented:
    Here’s an issue that hits a little closer home. If we can’t feed ourselves, how can any nation protect itself adequately?


    April 19, 2014 at 1:13 pm

  22. Reblogged this on THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS.


    April 21, 2014 at 10:01 am

  23. Reblogged this on The Purple Skye and commented:
    Reblogged this on The Purple Skye

    The Purple Skye

    May 18, 2014 at 2:42 am

  24. hmmm, i read your post, let me add some info to your post – minimum maternity leaves for working mom is 12 weeks standard set by International labour organisation way back in 1952. This is one of the main cause for the problem of malnutrition among infants around the world.
    Working mom fail to express milk after 12 weeks when she joins her office. I raised the voice to WHO and they firstly replied few of mails and then stopped replying.

    Can you check this post and let me know if how you can be of help.
    Post title: “Get Six Months Maternity Leaves Any where In The World” at


    June 10, 2014 at 12:15 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: