181: Messaging the Baby Formula Crisis

Brian Dittmeier, Senior Director of Public Policy at the National WIC Association,  tells us how public health agencies can support parents through the baby formula shortage; Lindsey Myers, ASTHO’s Vice President for Social and Behavioral...

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Brian Dittmeier, Senior Director of Public Policy at the National WIC Association,  tells us how public health agencies can support parents through the baby formula shortage; Lindsey Myers, ASTHO’s Vice President for Social and Behavioral Health, discusses how public health agencies can help curb gun violence; ASTHO released an infographic offering ten strategies to help schools improve their behavioral health programs.

CDC Webpage: Vital Signs – Changes in Firearm Homicide and Suicide Rates

ASTHO Policy Statement: Preventing Firearm Misuse, Injury, and Death

ASTHO Infographic: Improving Youth Behavioral Health Through School-Based Strategies

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition four Wednesday, May 18th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


The FDA's new plan to address the baby formula shortage aims to give struggling parents the food they need for their children.

Brian Dittmeier is senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association. He tells us how public health agencies can support parents in today's morning conversation.

How does the formula problem get resolved?


I think it's going to require a two-step solution.

So, first we have to recognize that this is truly a supply problem. There's limited access to infant formula right now because one of the largest manufacturing plants in the country has been closed for three months because of food safety concerns. And so, while that investigation continues, we have to identify other ways to get additional supply into the marketplace and on shelves at stores across the country.

Last week, the president announced a series of actions to help strengthen the supply. So, that includes everything from Abbott, who is the company that has manufacturing plant closure, to boost up supply at its other facilities to bring in shipments from its plant in Ireland, as well as other competitors boosting up production across their operations as well. The president announced as well that they're exploring imports from other countries and their infant formula supply to ensure that there is additional product available for American consumers.

And so, one thing to know though is it's not just a simple flip of the switch—each and every one of these actions takes time. And we know that across the infant formula manufacturing sector that companies have been ramping up supply since late February and March. And so, it takes time for that to translate to additional stock on the shelf.


Do public health agencies have a role in helping to solve this issue?


Certainly. Now, public health agencies are not going to be in a position to create or manufacture infant formula themselves, but it really takes a whole of community effort to support parents at this time.

It's an extraordinarily stressful time for parents with a formula-fed infant. We consistently hear stories of parents going to five or six stores before they can find a single can on the shelf. And as we identify solutions, it's going to take all players in the community to figure out where the supplier is and match it with the need. Sometimes, that means involving the retail stores and being in touch with them as well as community partners and food banks.

And so, the supply will shift over time. It is a highly localized issue as far as when supply is available, how it gets distributed. And so, being in touch with your community partners, making sure that you can meaningfully address questions coming from parents is going to be a key step here.


What more can agencies do to help parents get through this period of time?


Especially as parents are stressed about challenges and finding supply, it's our obligation as public health agencies to also be educating the public about some of the risky infant feeding practices that could jeopardize the long-term health of infants.

And so, public health agencies—in addition to supporting parents on the ground—should be lifting up messaging that cautions against using homemade infant formulas, cautions against diluting infant formula, and cautions against early introduction of cow's milk, which shouldn't be consumed until age one.

And so, those are three of the risky infant feeding practices that have been circulating a lot and certainly amplified on social media channels; and public health agencies should be doing everything they can to rebut those efforts and to give parents the tools they need to safely guide their infant's nutrition through this challenging time.



More gun violence over the weekend puts new focus on a CDC report that says the firearm homicide rate increased nearly 35% in 2020—it's highest level since 1994.

Lindsey Myers is ASTHO's vice president for social and behavioral health. She says public health agencies can help,


You know, first, state agencies play a really important role monitoring firearm injury data and using it to identify populations most at risk like this study does, and states do this at the state level.

And then, you know, using that data to select effective and sustainable programs and policies that address root causes that contribute to violence inequities and enhanced firearm safety. This can include implementing programs and advocating for policies that help increase household and economic security to address some of those factors and stressors that we saw as we were talking about during COVID-19, as well.


ASTHO has a policy statement addressing firearm, misuse injury, and death. Myers says it includes recommendations for states and territories.


One of the most important recommendations is to promote the understanding of firearm-related injuries as public health issues so that we can ground it in what public health does on all topics, which is really understand the data, look at the risk factors, identify effective solutions, and implement them. The same thing is true for firearms.


Read the CDC report and the ASTHO policy statement using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, ASTHO has an infographic offering 10 strategies to help educators improve their behavioral health programs in schools. They include recommendations to use inclusive language, expand Medicaid, reimbursement in school, and improve workforce capacity. You can download the infographic using the link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Brian Dittmeier JD

Senior Director, Public Policy, National WIC Association

Lindsey Myers MPH

Vice President, Social and Behavioral Health, ASTHO