Breast-Feeding Ads Stalled, 'Watered Down'

While other scientific studies back up claims of an increased risk for leukemia to babies not breast-fed, Beato said the experts who were satisfied with the studies are "not our experts in this department."

The formula industry hired Washington lobbyist Clayton Yeutter, who was the secretary of agriculture for the elder President Bush and a former Republican Party chairman. In a series of letters to Thompson, obtained by 20/20, Yeutter thanked him for making some changes to the campaign and asked for more changes to be made.

The formula industry objected to what it called the "grossly misleading visuals" in the ad campaign and questioned the scientific validity of claims of a higher incidence of diseases in babies who are not breast-fed. Yeutter declined ABC News' request for an interview.

When asked what role the infant formula industry played in putting a hold on this campaign, Beato answered, "To my knowledge, none."

Thompson also received a letter from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which voiced the same concerns as the formula industry, even though they take in millions of dollars each year from the formula makers. The academy's executive director, Dr. Joe Sanders, denies that the money from formula makers had anything to do with their decision to oppose the commercials.

"We saw the information from the Ad Council and there was something about a pregnant woman riding a [mechanical] bull," said Sanders. "I don't think a pregnant woman belongs on a mechanical bull, do you?"

Public Health Issue

But breast-feeding advocates say the science and the figures used in the commercials were valid.

"The ad campaign is backed by scientific research, by good research," said Dr. Larry Gartner, the former chairman of pediatrics at the University of Chicago and the head of the breast-feeding committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In fact, a study released just last month by the National Institutes of Health found that babies who are not breast-fed have a 20 percent higher risk of death in the first year.

"There are risks to the baby who is not breast-fed in terms of getting ear infections, upper respiratory tract infections, certain forms of cancer," said Dr. Bobbi Philipp, a pediatrician at the Boston Medical Center and a breast-feeding expert for the American Academy of Pediatrics, who was involved in the ad campaign.

"I think it's a huge public health issue," said Philipp. "I think it's very similar to smoking in terms of the importance to health of the children and mother."

Philipp added that there are live human cells in breast milk that can't be added to formula. "And the live cells protect against infection," she said.

‘Watered Down’ Ads

The modified ads were released today, but the spot with the roller derby scenes will not air. HHS also left out all references to leukemia and diabetes in babies not breast-fed.

And instead of referring to risks from not breast-feeding, the new commercials cite the benefits from breast-feeding, just as the industry wanted.

Many pediatricians and breast-feeding advocates welcome any campaign to promote breast-feeding, but the staunchest advocates see a sellout.

"The fact that they managed to get this campaign watered down is evidence that money can influence good medicine, and that large amounts of money can influence even good doctors," said Gordon.

He suspects the campaign would have cost the formula manufacturers "hundreds of millions of dollars."

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