The First Lady of the U.S., Michelle Obama, has made combating childhood obesity her mission. Her initiative, Let’s Move, has the ambitious goal of eradicating it within a generation. Given that obesity in U.S. kids has tripled in the last thirty years, it’s incontrovertibly an important issue. Yet the approach she takes has not been without its critics. This is especially true of late, when Mrs. Obama stated in a discussion with the press that she advocates breastfeeding because “kids who are breast-fed longer have a lower tendency to be obese.” Around the same time, the IRS announced that it would offer tax breaks for employed women who purchase breast pumps.
This two-pronged effort by the government set off a firestorm of debate. It also created interesting bedfellows. Some feminists and conservatives found themselves agreeing that, on this point, the government has no business interfering in the lives of women.
I think the government’s message puts undue pressure on women. As of yet, there is no evidence of a strong link between obesity and formula fed babies. Moreover, anyone who has breastfed a baby or consistently spent time with a woman who breastfeeds realizes that expressing milk takes a lot of time. Additionally, not all women enjoy the experience of breastfeeding or are even able to do it.
Certainly it is right for the government to protect working women who choose to breastfeed when corporate America fails to do it on its own. An admirable example of this is last spring, when the government required that businesses provide non-bathroom space and breaks for nursing mothers. Yet it is careless to send the message that breastfeeding is better than formula when the evidence is not there to support it.
Mrs. Obama has subsequently toned down her rhetoric and said that “[b]reastfeeding is a very personal choice for every woman. We are trying to make it easier for those who choose to do it.” This is fine if by “trying” she doesn’t mean supporting policies that are based on little scientific evidence.