Action Alert: Canadian Living sends dangerous message to its readers


The March 2005 issue of Canadian Living featured a special “First Foods” section by so-called “parenting expert” Laura Pratt. Under a picture of a plump bottle-feeding baby, an article entitled “Allergy Alert” advises breastfeeding mothers to reduce their intake of what she calls “high-risk foods”, without any mention of the importance of breastfeeding in reducing the risk of asthma and allergy. On the same page, Pratt gives advice on “Easy Weaning” and under “Taste Testy”, Pratt suggests that parents might want to introduce their toddler to “some scrumptious shrimp biryani” (Isn’t seafood a common trigger for allergic reactions?)


Not surprisingly, when we visited Canadian Living’s website to find the magazine’s mailing address, we were met with a banner ad for Nestlé Baby!


We thought that Pratt’s advice was dangerous and threatening to the health of infants and young children and told Canadian Living so. We invite you to do the same. Our letter and mailing information follows:


23 March 2005



Carol Shea, Publisher

Canadian Living Magazine

25 Sheppard Avenue West

Suite 100

Toronto, Ontario

M2N 6S7


Dear Ms. Shea:


Laura Pratt’s article, “Allergy Alert” (p. 131, Canadian Living, March 2005) is both misleading and misinformed. Coupled with the picture of a bottle-feeding baby, it sends a dangerous message to parents that there is a negative connection between breastfeeding and allergies.


According to a report by Dr. Robyn Cosford (Nutritional, Metabolic and Environmental Influences in Children’s Health) childhood asthma rates have doubled over the past twenty years, now affecting up to 35 percent of children. Allergies are also increasing. One UK study showed that 54 percent of children are affected by some form of atopic (allergic) symptoms. Given these alarming statistics, it’s critical that the nutritional advice that appears in your magazine be both accurate and reflect the very real risks to infant and child health, particularly when it comes from a so-called “parenting expert” such as Laura Pratt.


Numerous studies have determined that breastfeeding substantially reduces the risk of asthma and allergy. Moreover, the longer an infant breastfeeds, the greater the health benefits. Given the health risks associated with artificial feeding, Pratt’s list of danger signs should more accurately alert the parents of formula fed infants. Consider the following:


  • A study conducted by researcher at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children of 2184 children determined that the risk of asthma and wheezing was approximately 50 per cent higher for formula fed infants when compared to their breastfed counterparts. 

Dell S, To T. Breastfeeding and Asthma in Young Children, Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 155: 1261-1265, 2001


  • A long-term study of Finnish children found that the greater the duration of breastfeeding, the lower the incidence of atopy, eczema, food and respiratory allergy.

Saarinen UM, Kajosarri M. Breastfeeding as a prophylactic against atopic disease: Prospective follow-up study until 17 years old. Lancet 346: 1065-1069, 1995


  • An Arizona study found that non-atopic children who had not breastfed were three times more likely to have recurrent wheezing at six years of age.

Wright AL, Holberg CJ, Taussig LM, Martinez FD. Relationship of infant feeding to recurrent wheezing at age 6 years. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 149: 758-763, 1995


  • In a Dutch study, infants with a maternal history of respiratory allergies or asthma were assessed. In these children, exclusive breastfeeding for the first three months was shown to have a protective effect against dermatitis.

Kerkhof M, Koopman LP, van Strien RT, et al. Risk factors for atopic dermatitis in infants at high risk of allergy: the PIAMA study. Clin Exp Allergy 33: 1336-1341, 2003


Please refer to the enclosed pamphlet, Fourteen Risks of Formula Feeding, which further outlines the negative health effects of artificial feeding.


A related article by Pratt on the same page entitled, “Easier Weaning”, reinforces the erroneous perception that breastfeeding must eventually be replaced with formula feeding. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with the introduction of complementary foods (not formula) and continued breastfeeding up to two years and beyond. Both Health Canada and the Canadian Pediatric Society have adopted the exclusive breastfeeding recommendation as policy.


World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated each year in Canada from October 1 to 7. This year’s theme is Breastfeeding and Complementary Foods: Getting a Solid Start on Life. It recognizes that exclusive breastfeeding for the six months of life provides a solid nutritional foundation for babies. The appropriate introduction of nutritious family foods after the first six months of life helps baby make the healthy transition from infant to toddler, while breastfeeding continues. Highlighting World Breastfeeding Week would provide Canadian Living with an opportunity to set the record straight about optimal infant and young child feeding practices.


At present, Canadian Living’s advertising policies are in direct violation of the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The Code, which is designed to protect infant health, expressly forbids the advertising of formula products and clearly states that information about infant nutrition should not come from the very industry that stands to gain the most by undermining breastfeeding. The banner advertisement on the Canadian Living website, inviting visitors to join Nestlé Baby, is one very disturbing example forbidden advertising.


Whether consciously or not, coupling the misinformation of Laura Pratt’s articles with advertising that promotes products proven to put the lives of infants and young children at risk is a shameful misuse of the Canadian journalistic privilege.



Elisabeth Sterken, BSc, MSc, Nutritionist

National Director, INFACT Canada

Steering Committee, United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition


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