Across the Atlantic, finding common ground with consumer advocates – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
I’m spending the first part of this week in Brussels with colleagues from across the pond in a meeting with the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD). The TACD is a forum of US and EU consumer organizations which develops and agrees on joint consumer policy recommendations to the US government and European Union to promote the consumer interest in EU and US policy making.

The TACD was launched in September 1998, at the end of the inaugural meeting which took place in Washington and gathered more than 60 consumer representatives from the US and the EU.TACD’s objectives are to provide a formal mechanism for EU and US consumer representatives to input to EU and US political negotiations and agreements as well as explore ways of strengthening the EU and US consumer view at the international level. TACD champions the consumer perspective in transatlantic decision making.

It is our mission to ensure that EU/US policy dialogue promotes consumer welfare on both sides of the Atlantic and is well informed about the implications of policy decisions on consumers. The TACD provides a common voice for EU and US consumer organizations ensuring that key consumer priorities are promoted and advocated within EU-US regulatory and governmental processes, helping to protect health and safety and assure truth and fairness in the marketplace. Through meetings and multi-stakeholder conferences TACD contributes to the exchange of information, dissemination of knowledge and sharing of expertise on key consumer issues in the EU and the US. 

TACD works with stakeholders such as the Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue (TLD) and the Transatlantic Business Council (TABC) through the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), of which TACD is a member of the advisory group, to find areas of commonality and to seek increased consensus. It was a pleasure to be a part of this conference.

Spreading consumer awareness about dietary supplements around the globe – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

NCL was invited to present at a conference on health and nutrition at the charming seaside town of Dalian, a one and a half hour flight east of Beijing. Our past work surveying consumers on dietary supplements and NCL’s focus on the safe use of medication, no doubt, generated the invitation. The tour guide described China’s shape on a map as that of a rooster, with Beijing being the eye and Dalian being the beak. So there I was in the rooster’s beak, meeting academics, scientists, community workers, and doctors from around the world.

Much to my surprise, the hosts of the conference included NCL’s presentation entitled “Dietary Supplements: What Consumers Should Know,” as one of the conference’s keynote addresses. That put me at the podium with seven other presenters, all of them men who were either doctors or academics. This was an eminent group: for example, another keynoter, Sir Roy Calne, a doctor at Cambridge University in the UK, had performed the first liver, heart, and other organ transplants during the 1960s.

From the outset, the connection between the different presentations seemed to be a stretch. Many of us found ourselves at this conference asking each other, how is it you came to be invited? No one was quite sure. But looking back over the past several days, I don’t think I’ve ever been with a group of such accomplished, smart, thoughtful, and interesting people. One group of presentations focused on reports and research in pediatrics. That brought together an incredible group of mostly female pediatricians including surgeons, pediatric cardiologists, radiologists, and many more who discussed issues ranging from child abuse to ER and child trauma. These women were uniformly impressive, friendly, and approachable. The nice thing, too, is that because I was the only female in the opening session and talked about the importance of consumer awareness and a consumer voice on dietary supplements (based on a terrific presentation that our staff prepared for me about dietary supplements and how they can be beneficial or dangerous), these women doctors instantly knew who I was, were grateful a woman was represented as a keynoter, and came to know and like the work NCL is doing to reach out to consumers.

I also had the chance to meet Australian Paul Miller, who is with the Olive Council in his country. He is working to help expose and ferret out the problem of adulterated olive oil in markets around the world. This is a rampant problem that degrades the quality of olive oil world wide, creates a competitive disadvantage for those olive oil producers who play by the rules, and steals money from the wallets of consumers who pay far higher prices than they should for adulterated olive oil. This issue hits home for NCL, given our experience fighting food fraud, and testing products such as adulterated lemon juice. We hope to work with Miller and government regulators in the US and elsewhere to help expose this problem. NCL is grateful to the organizers of this BIT First Annual Conference on Food and Nutrition for including a consumer voice in the program. I found the gathering unusually rewarding, made many new friends and contacts for NCL, and learned a great deal from the many academics and doctors from around the world who are engaged in such noble and important work.

The undeserved reputation of “Pink Slime” is tested again – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Schools not only educate the next generation, they play an important role in the nutritional development of our children.  With concerns over obesity, we expect schools to provide meals that not only taste good, so students will eat the meals, but that are also healthy from both a nutritional and food safety perspective.  The schools are to do all this at a time of increasing fiscal constraints.  Not an easy task.

Unfortunately, there are public misconceptions on products that can help schools meet these competing demands.  Case in point, lean finely textured beef (LFTB), or as it has been pejoratively referred to as, “pink slime.”  This term is inflammatory and has nearly eliminated the possibility of constructive dialogue over the benefits of this lean beef supply for our school systems or other commercial uses.  The negative buzz led many states to reject its use in schools and caused retail outlets to limit its use.  When the dust settled last year after the “pink slime” controversy, only three states opted to purchase products with LFTB.  This school year, four additional states are providing schools with the option.  We applaud this action.

Not surprisingly, with the increase in the number of schools making the conscious decision to purchase products with LFTB, the negative buzz is starting again.  This is a good product. The product is as lean as meat can be, so its use cuts down on fat and calories.  As I noted in a blog last year, “NCL is in agreement with the Consumer Federation of America that manufacturers of hamburger patties may replace LFTB with something that has not been processed to assure the same level of safety. CFA also expressed concerns that NCL shares about the potential effect this recent controversy may have on companies who seek to apply innovative solutions and new technologies to enhance food safety.”

It’s also interesting to remember that Phillip Boffey of the New York Times cooked hamburger made with LFTB and attested to its good taste. Of more importance than taste, the product has an exemplary safety record of over 20 years; it is produced in a state-of-the-art facility, and it is tested repeatedly for safety. Al Almanza, Administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, in the recent Politco piece on schools reintroducing LFTB into their menus, noted that the product is safe.  “Isn’t that what we want – a safe product to feed our families?” he said.

If consumers and school lunch administrators can get past the false information and the negative buzz, the fact is, LFTB can answer many of the competing demands of low fat, good taste, and product safety consistent with fiscal constraints.

We expect a lot from our schools.  We should not limit their choices in how to meet our expectations, especially not when the limitation is based on politics or publicity rather than facts and sound science.

Growing concern over a flawed USDA plan for pork plants – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
This week’s Washington Post ran an expose story – one we were glad to see – about the misguided Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan to roll out a meat inspection program nationwide that will allow pork plants to use their own inspectors and replace USDA inspectors.

According to the Post story, the plan “has a history of producing contaminated meat at American and foreign plants.”  The Post noted that the USDA’s decision to allow federal inspectors to be replaced at plants by private employees that serve as inspectors had produced “serious lapses that included failing to remove fecal matter from meat” in three of the five plants that had participated in a pilot program for more than a decade.

The Post went on to note that plants using the same procedure in Australia and Canada also ran into problems. In one case, a Canadian company had to recall 8.8 million pounds of beef products for E. coli contamination. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report last month even said that it would be difficult to recommend rolling out the plan nationwide.

NCL has been working with a coalition of food safety and worker safety groups since the moment the USDA announced its disastrous campaign to shift oversight to private companies, to increase line speeds, and endanger both workers and consumers. But the USDA simply won’t listen. The tide should be turning though. We have a new bill this week from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called the Safe Meat and Poultry Act, which addresses concerns about the line speeds and potential for food safety outbreaks in the USDA plan, the GAO report, and now this Washington Post story. We urge the USDA to listen at last to critics and give up this program, for the sake of the health and safety of all Americans.

Let’s celebrate this Labor Day by fighting for the country’s low-wage workers – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

With Labor Day 2013 upon us, we have the opportunity to stand with low-income workers in the District of Columbia (DC) and by extension, all of the working poor. NCL has taken part in two recent campaigns in DC in an effort to lift up those who are often exploited and toil for unconscionably low wages. The first campaign supports the efforts of Good Jobs Nation.

NCL joined with this worker organization to help publicize the low wages federal contractors are permitted to pay those who serve food in the museums and tourist locales around the city. Twice in the past month our staff and our six summer interns hopped the DC Metro down to the National Mall to support walk-outs and rallies by hundreds of minimum wage employees. We’ve helped to publicize the fact that contractors who run fast food outlets like Subway and McDonalds, and who secure lucrative contracts with the federal government to provide meals at places like the Air and Space Museum and Union Station in Washington DC, often pay less than the DC minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, and sometimes even less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

We think tourists and taxpayers would be unhappy to learn that many of these federal contractors are not playing by the rules and are engaging in wage theft, which includes not paying the requisite time and a half for overtime or paying less than the required DC or federal minimum wage. All the while, these contractors are reaping millions in profits from tourists who have little choice but to eat in these establishments when they visit DC’s many wonderful sites. We, Good Jobs Nation, and many other groups are calling on President Obama to sign an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay a living wage to all workers. We urge everyone to go to the Good Jobs Nation website and sign the letter to the President.

We’re committed to supporting these workers in their efforts to earn not only the minimum wage but the DC living wage – which has been evaluated to be $12.50 an hour. If workers received a living wage they would make $26,000 annually working a 40-hour work-week. The second major DC-focused campaign is the DC City Council’s legislation, passed by an 8-5 tally, requiring that big box stores operating in DC, that have $1 billion in corporate sales and at least 75,000 square feet, pay a living wage of $12.50. Walmart has three stores operating in the District already, but because of the Council’s action, they are threatening to stop construction on the other three and take their business elsewhere. The bill now sits on DC Mayor Vincent Gray’s desk; NCL has written to the Mayor asking him to support the Council’s measure. Both campaigns have one thing in common: they are aimed at improving the wages and living conditions of the District’s working poor, who often are left to try and raise families on incomes of $15,000 or less in a very expensive city.

The argument from Walmart and its supporters is that these jobs, indeed, any jobs, are better than no jobs. A Washington Post article written by Jim Tankersley on August 8, debunks this claim showing raw statistics that demonstrate how Walmart affects a community and the number of jobs available. “Economic research suggests that the net job-creation benefits of a new Walmart usually prove minimal, at best. That is because when Walmart opens a store, it often drives other retailers out of business, forcing their employees out of work.

A 2004 paper from economist Emek Basker of the University of Missouri found that the introduction of a Walmart to a community usually raised retail employment by 100 jobs at first, but that number fell to a net gain of 50 jobs in the long run. A year later, a trio of economists from California and Massachusetts found that a Walmart entry reduces employment by 150 jobs in the long term. A 2008 study of Maryland Walmarts (sic) found the stores reduced overall retail employment in the areas where they were introduced but pushed up retail wages.” If Walmart effectively stalls job creation and then reduces the overall number of jobs in the long term, perhaps DC would be better without Walmart’s jobs. These parallel campaigns are front and center during this Labor Day.

We think both President Obama and the DC Mayor (with kudos to the DC City Council) have a unique opportunity to lift up the workers in DC and demand that that stores like Walmart and federal contractors who run the McDonalds and Subways provide a living wage to all workers. This seems like a reasonable request in light of the huge profits these companies make, and bringing these demands to fruition would be a very worthy way, indeed, to celebrate Labor Day 2013.

A day of celebration and reflection at the National Mall – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Yesterday, Washington celebrated the 50th Anniversary of one of the world’s greatest events for the cause of civil rights. There were Americans from all states of the union at the March, and many great speeches. I joined the ceremonies in the morning by participating with citizens and elected officials working for DC Statehood at the DC WWII Memorial, then walked to the Lincoln Monument with the crowd to hear the speeches.  I also took a lot of pictures.

 

Congressman John Lewis, who was a King confidant and who was himself arrested many times, beaten and bloodied, and who is now a member of Congress from Georgia, spoke, as did Ben Jealous, head of the NAACP, Arline Holt Baker of the AFLCIO, Mary Kay Henry, head of SEIU, Randy Weingarten, head of AFT, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who drew a rousing round of applause. Pelosi told the crowd she was at the march 50 years ago and heard MLK Jr. speak. She observed that then there were 4 Black members of Congress back then and a Catholic in the White House; today there are 43  Black members of Congress and an African American in the White House. The Black Caucus members “are the conscience of the caucus” Pelosi said. And I was personally so pleased that she also said we need “not just a minimum wage but a livable wage.” That’s what we are fighting for right now in DC!

We ought to have been celebrating the gains made in the last 50 years and there have been many. The overwhelming sense I had from the crowd, however, which was both heavily African America and union, is that while many important gains have been achieved since Martin Luther King made his “I Have A Dream Speech”, just when you think things are going well, something monumental sets you back. The theme for this march was why the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin, the FL teenager shot while he walked back from a convenience store carrying nothing more than a bag with Skittles, ever happened? Are “Stand Your Ground” laws a chance for racists to carry out vigilante justice and get away with it? And how different is Trayvon Martin from Emmett Till? Nevertheless, it was a great day in Washington, with excellent speeches and an opportunity to reflect on King’s Dream – with the Trayvon Martin case, immigration reform stalled, and 15 million workers making minimum wage and having to work 2-3 jobs to get by, though, today was a reminder of how much more we need to do to get our house in order.

In defense of Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin — Thank you for your service – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Earlier this month, Forbes magazine contributor Henry I. Miller penned a needlessly nasty assessment of Dr. Regina M. Benjamin’s tenure as U.S. Surgeon General. Dr. Benjamin, who on Tuesday stepped down from the office she has held for more than four years, leaves behind a robust record of health advocacy, having tackled some of our country’s most challenging public health issues. In his piece, Miller declaims Dr. Benjamin for being “nowhere to be found since the beginning of President Obama’s first term.”

This could not be further from the truth! In promoting her National Prevention Strategy campaign, Dr. Benjamin regularly traveled to cities across the country, touting the importance of physical activity and wellness in often underserved communities that receive little media attention. Granted, Dr. Benjamin was not a press hound. And unlike her well-known predecessor Dr. C. Everett Koop—famed for flouting the will of politicians who wanted to suppress discussion of the nation’s AIDS epidemic, an extremely controversial and media-grabbing issue in the 1980s—Benjamin preferred to confront some of America’s most pernicious public health challenges without fanfare. Her priority initiatives included: combating the nation’s growing obesity problem (she helped to implement First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign), reducing tobacco use, trumpeting the importance of breastfeeding, and raising awareness of the country’s suicide epidemic, among others.

Dr. Benjamin’s commitment to confronting the greatest public health challenges working-class Americans face may not prompt the kind of controversy that would draw much media attention, but her impact in engaging this community has been unsurpassed. Dr. Jocelyn Elders, Surgeon General under President Clinton, (in)famous for controversial comments regarding sex education, confirmed that Benjamin “hadn’t been out on the firing line getting picked at like some of us in the past.” She added that Benjamin’s efforts have mostly taken place behind the scenes. Indeed, Dr. Benjamin clearly has dedicated herself to serving Americans in those places where she might not elicit a lot of public attention, but where she could make the biggest difference.

As Executive Director of the National Consumers League, I can personally attest to Dr. Benjamin’s commitment to educating Americans. Dr. Benjamin became an early champion for our Script Your Future Campaign to improve medication adherence. Poor adherence – patients not taking their medications as directed – is a $290 billion problem; 3 of 4 patients say they haven’t taken their medication as directed and 125,000 die each year on account of poor adherence. The Surgeon General helped NCL to launch the campaign at the George Washington University School of Public Health.

In early 2011, Dr. Benjamin launched a “Call To Action” in support of breastfeeding aimed at communities of color. If every woman who was able nursed her baby, we would save the health care system billions of dollars. The Surgeon General, who has gotten behind these and many other initiatives (with unprecedented outreach to minority communities), has made all the difference for community organizations dedicated to overcoming America’s most crippling public health challenges. Dr. Benjamin has been everything that Miller portrays her not to be, as the nation’s top public health official HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggests. Sebelius said that the Surgeon General has “touched the lives of millions of Americans and has had a positive impact on the health of this Nation.” Dr. Georges Benjamin (no relation), President of the American Public Health Association, said that “Regina Benjamin taught America how to walk again … and has been a remarkable advocate in promoting the value of prevention as a national health priority. Instead of lobbing ad hominem insults at Dr. Benjamin (Miller says she is obese, for example, which she is not) for her work as Surgeon General, we should be thanking her for her four years of distinguished service as the nation’s doctor.

The NSA scandal: balancing safety and liberty – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
On June 6, Edward Snowden leaked classified information about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of massive amounts of data over the last decade. First came the revelation that the secretive agency demanded that telecom providers hand over droves of phone conversation metadata, including the telephone numbers of those making and receiving calls and how long those calls lasted. Later we learned that the NSA also requested online data collected from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others. Some have called Snowden a hero, others a traitor.

The U.S. government has charged Snowden with espionage. Snowden, a 29-year-old high school drop-out (he later earned his GED), had been hired by an outsourced government contractor and working with sensitive NSA data since 2009. His release of the classified information has not only raised serious questions about the legality of such data collection and what this means for people living in a free, democratic society such as ours, but also has muddled international relations with China and Russia, both countries in which he has appeared since fleeing. Neither Russia nor Hong Kong were willing  to extradite  him  to the US. Much of the media’s focus over the last few weeks has revolved around Snowden’s whereabouts, but these revelations about NSA’s actions have also started a more sobering discussion about what role the government plays in both protecting the American people from terrorist attacks and preserving civil liberties. Polls taken since the disclosure of NSA’s policies show Americans are divided on this issue.

PEW poll reported that 56 percent of Americans think the NSA’s tracking of “millions of Americans” phone records is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism. Conversely, in a CBS poll that asked about collecting phone records of “ordinary Americans” only 38 percent of respondents found the practice acceptable. Due to the lack of transparency in the NSA program, Americans are unclear how useful such data collection is to ensuring our safety and security. Both the Obama Administration and Gen. Keith B. Alexander, head of the NSA, claim the programs have thwarted dozens, perhaps as many as 50, terror plots. This number might prove more persuasive if the agency would reveal more details about these terrorist activities, but they’ve instead played the “trust us, we’re here to protect you” card and are reluctant to disclose information about the actual plots or the tools used to stop those plots. That leaves many Americans skeptical about the validity of such statements. Could these terrorist attacks have been stopped by other means? Were these terrorist attacks stopped by other means?

One strategy that both protects security but seeks to preserve our privacy and freedom of association is being pursued by a handful of US Senators. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has introduced the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013. This bipartisan bill aims to bolster existing privacy safeguards and require greater oversight, transparency, and accountability in connection with the government’s expansive domestic surveillance powers. Government plays an important role in all of our lives in acting for the common good; state and local governments were established to do the things communities benefit from: ensure fire and police protection, build and maintain schools, hospitals, water treatment plants and sewer systems. But when our federal government collects billions of pieces of information from the phone records and Internet data of all its citizens with a vague explanation that this is needed for “national security,” that’s a fishing expedition and should raise serious concerns about privacy.

Perhaps most of us don’t feel like we’re living in a police state, but when you stop to think about the ways in which our privacy has been invaded, it’s scary. Many cities, including where I live in Washington DC, have literally hundreds of cameras deployed all across town operating 24/7. GPS tracking devices are ubiquitous. DUI checkpoints are common and the cops can take your blood if they suspect you’ve been drinking, and now, according to the Supreme Court, if you get stopped for a minor infraction your DNA can be loaded into a database. As one USA Today commentator put it, “There must be a balance between legitimate security and overbearing government.” We have indeed seen a steady erosion of privacy since 9/11.

The passage of the Patriot Act was a reaction to the attack on the United States and was just the opening salvo. And what has that gotten us? More protection from terrorists? I’m skeptical. Why did the FBI miss the Boston Marathon bombers when the Russian government warned them about the older Tsarnaev brother, saying he was dangerous? The CIA missed Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan’s relationship with terrorist groups. Not to mention that there were many red flags that our intelligence agencies missed before the 9/11 attack, such as young Saudi men living isolated lives but getting flight training, traveling from the United States to Osama Bin Laden’s training camps. In America, there exists a generation of young people who are inured to this loss of liberty, loss of privacy and the difficulty getting these protections back once they’ve been lost. As Benjamin Franklin said “Any people that would give up liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.” Ronald Reagan, 200 years later, echoed the same: “Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.”

Will repackaging medicine prevent suicides? – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
This week Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel wrote a persuasive column in the New York Times laying out a strategy for reducing suicides. He suggests that by simply changing the way we package medication, as Britain has done, we could sharply reduce the number of people who take fatal doses of medicine. Emanuel, the brother of the Mayor of Chicago and a physician who comments frequently on health policy, notes that every year one million people attempt suicide, more than 38,000 succeed.

It turns out that suicides and poisonings from medication have been steadily climbing since 1999. He says that “a good way to kill yourself is by overdosing on Tylenol and other pills”.  Emanuel argues that if we make it hard to buy pills in bottles of 50 or 100 capsules that can easily be dumped out and swallowed, we can prevent many deaths. If pills were packaged in blister packs of 16 to 25, anyone who wanted to use them to commit suicide would have to work really hard. The fact is that suicides occur all too often when a person is at a particularly low moment. Research shows that if the opportunity to take pills – or use a firearm – is effectively diminished – often the moment passes and the person lives. Emanuel cites very persuasive data from Britain. In 1998, Britain changed packaging for the active ingredient in Tylenol, acetaminophen, requiring blister packaging of 16 pills when sold over the counter in places like convenience stores and for packages of 32 pills in pharmacies.  The result, published in an Oxford University study, showed that over 11 years or so, suicide from Tylenol overdoses declined by 43%. Accidental poisonings declined as well. The number of liver transplants attributable to Tylenol toxicity went down significantly. In fact, in 2011 the makers of Tylenol added protective flow restrictors and dosing syringes to all liquid infant and children’s medicines, to prevent accidental overdose.  There is already a precedent here in the US to modify packaging to prevent adverse events; this isn’t a new concept for industry. Not only can repackaging acetaminophen-containing products reduce incidence of suicide caused by overdosing, but it will also prevent accidental poisoning of children. Manufacturers should work with the FDA to learn from Britain’s example and continue to improve packaging. With a change in packaging, which comes with a cost to manufacturers of course but could be carried out over time, we could potentially save thousands of lives.

Breastfeeding a public health issue – National Consumers League

A study published recently brings news that breastfeeding could save 900 lives a year and billions of dollars if 90 percent of women breast-fed their babies for the first six months of life. These findings are from the journal Pediatrics, which determined that there are hundreds of deaths and many more illnesses from health problems that breastfeeding could prevent – like asthma, diabetes, ear infections, stomach viruses, or even childhood leukemia.

The analysis studied the prevalence of 10 common childhood illnesses, costs of treating those diseases, including hospitalization, and the level of disease protection other studies have linked with breastfeeding. The $13 billion in estimated losses due to the low breastfeeding rate includes an economist’s calculation partly based on lost potential lifetime wages, at $10.56 million per death.

Breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight infections; it also can affect insulin levels in the blood, which may make breast-fed babies less likely to develop diabetes and obesity. One or two critical things the study failed to note – breastfeeding is FREE. Check out the prices of infant formula some time – it’s expensive!  And it doesn’t provide nearly the benefits that mother’s milk contains.

Secondly, breastfeeding is a wonderful bonding experience for baby and mom. We need to do so much more to encourage women to nurse their children – like a major education campaign for starters about the benefits of breastfeeding. And marketing baby formula to new moms should be vastly curtailed in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Happily, the new health reform legislation encourages breastfeeding by requiring that employers create a private space for working women to nurse their children. And under a new provision the Joint Commission, a hospital accrediting agency, hospitals may be evaluated on their efforts to ensure that newborns are fed only breast milk before they’re sent home.

“The magnitude of health benefits linked to breast-feeding is vastly underappreciated,” said lead author Dr. Melissa Bartick, an internist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. Bartick calls breastfeeding a public health issue, and I couldn’t agree more. About 43 percent of U.S. mothers do at least some breastfeeding for six months, but only 12 percent follow government guidelines recommending that babies receive only breast milk for six months.

Why do moms either never start or quit breastfeeding early? It’s not always easy to get started – the kid and the mom have to figure it out together, and it can be frustrating when the baby won’t “latch on.” It also can be messy and you have to keep up with it, which means pumping at work if you’re a working mom, which can be a pain. But as this study shows, it’s the best thing for the baby, and we have to do a much better job of communicating the importance of breastfeeding to expectant and new moms. In short, there are ways to address all of these challenges.

The pediatrics academy says babies should be given a chance to start breastfeeding immediately after birth. Bartick said that often doesn’t happen, and at many hospitals newborns are offered formula even when their mothers intend to breast-feed. “Hospital practices need to change to be more in line with evidence-based care,” Bartick said. “We really shouldn’t be blaming mothers for this.” Bartrick’s study is invaluable. No, not every woman can successfully breast-feed and she shouldn’t feel guilty if it doesn’t work for her. But the statistics in this study demonstrate that we need to do all that we can to ensure that women who want to and can nurse their infants are given all the encouragement in the world to succeed.