Like a lot of babies, O has acid reflux. But unlike most, his is still going strong at nine months. Spit up is too cute a phrase for his issues. Let’s just say the words copious and projectile apply.
Although I’m still hanging strong on breastfeeding, we discovered along the way that a bottle of formula for stomach issues (Infamil Gentlease) before bed gives him a few hours of non-barfing, pain-free peace.
Bear with me, I’m getting to the policy angle, I promise.
Anyway, I’m at Target and see they have a generic version of this formula, which makes me super happy because formula ain’t cheap. Tedd, who is skeptical of all things generic, has me compare the ingredients with the real deal. This is the first time I turned over the formula box, which is sad and embarrassing in itself, but get this: the first ingredient is corn syrup. What?!? You may know this already, but I was floored.
How is corn syrup listed before milk? (I am reminded of that dog food commercial where people are complaining about how corn meal is the first ingredient. And thanks to TV, I HAVE checked my dog food ingredients, but I apparently didn’t think to check what my baby was eating.
I got to thinking about how everyone is trying to stop people from eating so much high-fructose corn syrup (i.e. “sugar on crack”). Baby guru Dr. Sears says the corn syrup in formula will make babies fat and while I generally think his M.O. is making parents feel guilty (or is that just me?), I can see how too much processed sugar would shape a baby’s tastes for future in life. However, he doesn’t point out that corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are fairly different substances. High-fructose corn syrup is much sweeter and much more processed than regular corn syrup.
So back to learning courtesy of paid advertising, is it true sugar is sugar no matter what the source? Surprisingly, according to this New York Times article, cane sugar is actually sweeter in formula and could result in an increase in long-term cravings. The Times article also points out that babies need sugar to digest milk, so you gotta have something in there. Some formulas (including the organic ones) use lactose as a sweetener, but formulas for kids like mine with stomach issues need to have reduced lactose – cue the corn syrup.
So is corn syrup the best option for some babies after all? (One brand uses brown rice syrup, which they say is healthier.)
Or are formula companies like other food companies quick to use corn syrup because it’s cheapest?
Ok, finally to my point. The 2012 Farm Bill is around the corner and there’s going to be a lot of talk about a) whether our country can still afford $30 billion in farm subsidies and b) whether these subsidies should be predominantly going to big farming like corn (reducing the cost and increasing the supply of corn syrup) instead of going to healthier alternatives.
Perhaps if corn wasn’t so cheap and plentiful, formula companies would be prompted to use healthier ingredients than highly-processed sweeteners like corn syrup. I don’t know the answer, but I’d hope as the Farm Bill comes up for public debate in the next year, parents start thinking about what their kids are eating and if they don’t like it, why they can’t find alternatives. Too expensive? No better options? And rather than trying to change eating habits later in life (e.g. banning soda machines in schools), can we think about how farming policy affects how babies eat, too?
When you live in a country with a bazillion choices on the grocery store shelves, it’s easy to make food a personal issue. You either eat the Cheetos or you don’t. You pony up for organic or you don’t. You go with the formula out there rather than have your baby barf all night long. But there ARE people (i.e. Congress) who are making the policy decisions that often limit the personal food choices we make for our kids. And the Farm Bill is one of the biggest vehicles for making those policy decisions.
So go ahead, look at the ingredients on your kids’ food boxes. And if what’s on there makes you cringe, but paying for an alternative or finding the time to research an alternative makes you cringe more, think about the politics that put you in that spot.
And since I can’t end a post without at least a few O pics, I ask you this: does a baby who has spontaneous laughing attacks for no apparent reason (see play-by-play below) need more sugar than necessary? I don’t think so.