Business over babies

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First aired on the Lang & O'Leary Exchange (22/04/13)


More than ever, new parents these days are faced with a myriad of options ranging from brands of baby food to diapers to strollers. So naturally, companies are vying for the attention of new parents, hoping to lock them into brand loyalty early and establish a decades-long relationship. But author Jennifer Margulis warns parents that doctors, hospitals and companies may be putting the bottom line ahead of the safety and well-being of babies. Her new book is called The Business of Baby and she spoke with Amanda Lang and Kevin O'Leary on Monday.

Of course it's natural for corporations to try to sell things to people, even parents. "The problem is when they disguise sales and advertising as health and well-being," said Margulis. "In the States, some corporations — formula companies, for example — have unlimited access to hospitals. They talk to the labour and delivery nurses, bring them pizza and ice cream at night, and then those labour and delivery nurses who are responsible for helping new moms learn how to breast-feed — which is a very hard thing to do — end up, instead, peddling formula."

"I have no problem with corporations selling products," said Margulis. "But when you're trying to lock in brand recognition in the cradle in order to do something that is going to undermine the health of a child, you're doing something that is unethical and inappropriate."

What's needed are more strictly enforced rules about transparency in regards to doctors and nurses recommending products. "One thing that corporations do is they spend a lot of time wooing pediatricians," said Margulis. "We love our doctors, we know they have our children's best health in mind, but then all of a sudden they're prescribing a more expensive prescription drug instead of a generic drug, and we don't realize the reason why is that afternoon, they got a catered lunch! So how do we make that transparent?"

But the truth is, we live in a world where everyone is trying to sell something — and we know it. So why shouldn't parents be expected to exercise their own judgment when it comes to these things? "One thing is that parents need the necessary information, and once they have the information [then] they can make the judgment. But what happens is, if a hospital is given a lot of 'free' gifts from diaper companies and baby wash companies...then parents think that those gifts have the seal of approval," said Margulis. "[For example], we wash babies within hours of birth with a newborn baby soap that is off-gassing formaldehyde. This is something that parents can't know about, they just's totally fine."

Margulis isn't paranoid that there's some big corporate conspiracy out there, but she's concerned that the quest for profits is trumping the health of children. "The problem is, it's gone too far," she said.

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