The infant formula scandal, thought by many to be unique to the Third World, is also a serious health problem in the United States. UNICEF estimates that every year 1 million infants worldwide die as a result of bottle feeding. Dr. Alan Cunningham of Columbia University believes that about 5,000 of these deaths occur in the U.S. In most instances, the reasons are similar, whether the babies are from Caracas, Los Angeles, or Pine Ridge. The Third World problem has received international attention, but now there are efforts to stop the U.S. infant formula tragedy as well.
Sen. Edward Kennedy put the Third World problem succinctly in 1978 when he asked, "Can a product which requires clean water, good sanitation, adequate family income, and literate parents to follow printed instructions be properly and safely used where water is contaminated, sewage runs in the streets, poverty is severe, and illiteracy high?" The answer then, as now, is clear. Under such conditions, people often overdilute the expensive milk powders. The dilution leads to malnutrition frequently complicated by diarrhea and disease when contaminated, unsterile water is used.
Though generally not as severe as in the Third World, bottle baby disease is a hidden fact of poverty in the U.S. In June, 1981, Charlotte Frey of St. Joseph's Hospital in Patterson, New Jersey, said, "I know plenty of instances where the babies are getting formula, but the parents don't have enough food.... We [also] see the exceptions, what I call disaster cases--[parents] giving nothing to the baby but water, diluting the formula much higher than they are supposed to."