Thursday, April 14, 2011

Michael Latham, breastfeeding advocate

From the NY Times:

Michael C. Latham, an expert on international nutrition and tropical health who waged a long campaign against the use of infant formula and for the practice of breastfeeding in developing countries, died on April 1 in Boston. He was 82 and lived in Newfield, N.Y.

The cause was pneumonia, his son Mark said.

Dr. Latham, who directed the Program in International Nutrition at Cornell University for 25 years, first encountered the problems of nutrition in the developing world while practicing medicine as a young doctor for the British colonial service in Tanganyika (now Tanzania).

After the country had gained its independence, he stayed on and was appointed the director of the nutrition unit of the public health ministry. He became alarmed at efforts by Western companies to expand their marketing of infant formula to underdeveloped countries, where high birth rates promised a growing consumer base, and he became one of the first and most forceful public health scientists to sound a warning.

In many poor countries, he pointed out, mothers mixed powdered baby formula with contaminated water, leading to diarrheal diseases. To make the formula last longer, they often used too little of the powder, depriving their babies of vital nutrients.

Bottle feeding was “incredibly difficult and extremely bad,” Dr. Latham wrote in a 1976 report with Ted Greiner, but “the media onslaught is terrific, the messages are powerful and the profits are high.”

“High also is the resultant human suffering,” they wrote.

Dr. Latham’s cause, taken up by several health groups, led the World Health Organization in 1981 to develop a set of guidelines, the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which was intended to govern the behavior of private companies. He was a prominent figure in the boycott of NestlĂ©, a leading manufacturer of infant formula, which agreed in 1984 to abide by the marketing code.

Read the rest here.

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