'Today' Double Standard: Ban On Trans Fats - Good, Ban On Bottle Feeding - Bad

On this morning's Today show, NBC's Meredith Vieira and Dr. Nancy Snyderman became born-again libertarians in their opposition to New York City's ban on bottle feeding babies. Vieira called the measure "drastic" and Snyderman urged, "not so fast." The ban even inspired "Today" to coin a new series segment called "Nanny State." However, back in 2006, when New York City infringed on another right - the right to eat fatty foods, Snyderman struck a different tone, as she gravely warned about the dangers of trans fats.

First up Vieira opened the bottle feeding ban segment on the August 2, "Today" this way:

Meredith Vieira: "And now we're gonna move on to something we call 'Nanny State.' First there was smoking and then trans fats and now baby formula? New York City health officials recently took what many see as a drastic step. Dr. Nancy Snyderman is NBC's chief medical editor. Good morning, Nancy. What is going on?"

Dr. Nancy Snyderman: "Well, hi Meredith. This is one that I think is going to cause a lot of conversation today because it's always been a divisive topic among parents, whether to give the breast or bottle. But in New York it may be the government that's stepping in to make the choice for new mothers. It's one of the touchiest turf battles in parenting, bottle versus breast. And it's gaining new steam."

Then Vieira and Snyderman, offended at the infringement of a woman's right to breast feed, concluded the segment, quite exasperated:

Snyderman: "Yeah, you know breast feeding sounds so easy but for any of us who've done it, it's a little bit tougher than people give it credit for. And I really resent the fact that there are men telling women what to do and that it's the government and it's going way beyond just health. This is gonna be controversial but I think it makes a lot of us go, uhh, just take a breath. Maybe not so fast."

Vieira: "Yeah, take a step back..."

Snyderman: "Yeah."

However, back in 2006, when it came to regulating the restaurant industry in New York, Snyderman was singing a different tune. NBC's chief medical correspondent seemed to endorse the trans fat ban, as seen in the following excerpts from her October 30, 2006 "Today" report.

[On screen graphic: "Health Alert, Trans Fats: The New Tobacco?"]

Snyderman: "Hey Matt when it comes to your health and you and I talk about this a lot, it's very important to remember that what you eat is what you are. And if you eat foods that are high in trans fat well you better pay attention because the harm they do is very real. Want a donut, a French fry, potato chips? They are all popular American foods but they may not be for long. Trans fat, a critical ingredient in all of them has suddenly become public health target number one. California attorney Steven Joseph launched the crusade in 2003 filing the Oreo lawsuit, which resulted in Kraft Foods eliminating trans fats from Oreos and reducing it in 650 other products. Since then Tiburon, California became America's first trans fat-free city and now New York, Chicago and Boston are proposing to do the same. "

[Woman #1: "We need to have things taken off our plate because a lot of times we, we don't have the discipline to do that."]

[Woman #2:" Look around there are a lot of obese people."]

Snyderman: "Why is trans fats suddenly up there with tobacco and alcohol on the list of threats to public health? Because these man made fats, which give foods a longer shelf life, are proving deadly."

...

Snyderman: "How does trans fat take its toll? Imagine this pipe is your artery and this grease is trans fat. Over time the liquid hardens and clogs the pipe and in your arteries that means a greater risk for heart attacks and stroke. With one million Americans dying from heart disease each, heart disease each year doctors believe that removing trans fats is a no-brainer. And I think, Matt, the easiest way to think about it is that trans fats do to your insides what bacon grease does to your sink."

...

Snyderman: "Well the food, the food industry is reacting quickly and Kraft was the first to do it because the trial attorneys are circling. Fat is the new tobacco. There are going to be lawsuits. And there is some research that perhaps fat is addictive in some way. So doctors have been crying about this for a while. Now as you know the politicians involved, the lawyers are circling, the fast food industry is going to respond."

The following is the entire "Nanny State" segment as it occurred at 8:22 am on the August 2, "Today" show:

Meredith Vieira: "And now we're gonna move on to something we call Nanny State. First there was smoking and then trans fats and now baby formula? New York City health officials recently took what many see as a drastic step. Dr. Nancy Snyderman is NBC's chief medical editor. Good morning, Nancy. What is going on?"

Dr. Nancy Snyderman: "Well, hi Meredith. This is one that I think is going to cause a lot of conversation today because it's always been a divisive topic among parents, whether to give the breast or bottle. But in New York it may be the government that's stepping in to make the choice for new mothers. It's one of the touchiest turf battles in parenting, bottle versus breast. And it's gaining new steam."

Alan Aviles, NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation: "We're trying to do everything we can to promote breast feeding."

Snyderman: "On Tuesday, New York City health officials announced a ban on the use and promotion of baby formula in all 11 of its public hospitals in favor of an across-the-board breast-feeding initiative."

Aviles: "Because the evidence is so clear that there are significant health benefits to mother and child."

Snyderman: "A spokeswoman for the formula industry argues it's good intent, gone wrong."

Mardi Mountford, International Formula Council: "We don't believe that it's appropriate for the government to make this decision for moms. It, it should be the moms who are making the decision based on the best available information that is out there."

Snyderman: "Currently about 24 percent of women who deliver at New York City public hospitals breast feed, exclusively. Officials want to triple that number by the year 2010, putting what many view as a personal decision on to a very public stage."

Nisha Bhandari, new mother: "Well I think it has to be a choice but it has to be like an educated choice."

Vieira: "You know, Nancy, breast feeding is obviously healthier for the baby and, and cheaper, then what is the controversy?"

Snyderman: "I think the controversy is not lifestyle but maternal choices. I mean you and I know there's so much pressure to be sort of, the perfect mom, and I'm not taking anyway, anything away from breast feeding. We all know that it's healthier. But if you start to strip formula out of the city hospitals where women of color go, they may not have the support system. You don't allow moms to stay in the hospital very long and you say breast feeding is it, I think it's gonna be harder."

Vieira: "Putting them in a bad situation, yeah."

Snyderman: "Yeah, you know breast feeding sounds so easy but for any of us who've done it, it's a little bit tougher than people give it credit for. And I really resent the fact that there are men telling women what to do and that it's the government and it's going way beyond just health. This is gonna be controversial but I think it makes a lot of us go, uhh, just take a breath. Maybe not so fast."

Vieira: "Yeah, take a step back..."

Snyderman: "Yeah."

Vieira: "Dr. Nancy Snyderman, thanks so much for joining us."

Snyderman: "You're welcome."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.