There are daily examples all across the world of the media mis-reporting the news and influencing public opinion. Some of them we just let go and forget about, but others have to be confronted and exposed. Today a story spread across parts of the Chinese web that attacked the natural power of women to breastfeed and placed manufactured infant formula as an alternative. This issue is an important one in China today and is linked to a whole host of other issues, including parenting, education and basic philosophies on what is right and wrong.
Now who would have the audacity to smear a full-breasted woman with a lil babe at the teet? Big business that’s who. In cahoots with the media, I assume, though we all know that assumptions can pave the way to hell, so let’s leave that out for the moment.
Just the facts:
The Wuhan Evening News came out with an article today, a full page spread no less, that told the story of a breastfeeding mother who’s child had cerebral palsy. In the story, entitled “Young mother nurses 6-month baby into cerebral palsy,” the mother went to the hospital for advice and the doctor advised her to turn to infant formula. The child was soon cured. (Just FYI, there are zero links between cerebral palsy, mothers milk and infant formula.)
The link above has been severely censored following online scrutiny, check out the photo to the right for the original article. Update: Jackie Xia from Yeeyan hooked me up with a .pdf file for the article.
Hitting a nerve
Mother’s milk contributing to cerebral palsy sounds like an advert in a political campaign, not an article written by a journalist, right? Something to laugh at and share with your friends as a joke. But unfortunately, the article made big waves as outlet after outlet shared the story across the Chinese web, including Weibo and Yahoo News.
Similar to the racist ad linked above, the article hopes to sensationalize an issue and create doubt, just enough doubt to sway a few more moms away from their natural abilities and toward infant formula (a multi-billion dollar and growing business in China btw). The key to success is to attack the visceral nerve and create fear. Moms in China without the proper knowledge or access to credible support from real physicians would choose the lesser evil, formula, rather than risk having a child with cerebral palsy.
And that’s the rub isn’t it: not necessarily that an unnamed journalist wrote a fact-less story asserting a scientific impossibility, but that the gullible majority swallows it up, hook, line and sinker.
Like cigarettes and the War on Terror, mother’s milk vs. infant formula is shaping up to be a war for the hearts and minds of new mothers around the world, but especially in China, where the natural birth movement is in its infancy (like that pun?) and the hospitals are usually suspect when it comes to ca$h money offers from big business.
There isn’t really anything wrong with formula per se, unless it happens to be laced with melamine, but promoting manufactured goods for the smallest of us when the best of the best is available right there, from mommy? Just ain’t right.
Just the beginning
The government is not to blame on this one. The central government worked with WHO and UNICEF in the 1990s to raise the percentage of breastfeeding women in China to the global averages and a recently proposed regulation would prohibit formula companies to promote their products in hospitals to newborns (younger than 6 months). Perhaps it was this regulation that set off the Wuhan article.
The Chinese central government realizes that stats like a 46% caesarean section rate (highest in the world) and 13 million stunted infants (second only to India) do not befit a great power. So they’re doing something about it. However, the real impact comes not from top down measures that become a mere trickle when they reach the people, but bottom up, grassroots approaches that eventually influence not only public opinion, but also public policy.