Location. Location. Location. In real estate and in food access, where you live matters. Areas where people live can differ widely in their health-promoting factors and exposure to health-damaging factors. Such is also the case with the first food—breast milk. The healthiest first food is breastfeeding, which is also associated with the best health and survival outcomes. The First Food Friendly project is also based on the theory that where mothers breastfeed, particularly in disadvantaged communities, is strongly influenced by breastfeeding-promotion factors such as availability of breastfeeding support groups, peer-mentoring programs, and access to a Baby Friendly hospital, as well as breastfeeding-damaging factors such formula advertisement, easy access to WIC (note: WIC centers offer some breastfeeding support at this time), and a lack of child care providers trained in supporting breastfeeding mothers and in handling breast milk.
Over the last decade, numerous papers have been written about the existence of “food deserts” in a variety of different social science disciplines. But those renderings have had a critical lapse—”first food deserts.” This pilot project will define and designate “first food deserts”—initially in predominantly African American, mid-size cities in the southeast region that are significantly under-resourced or with limited access to breastfeeding support mechanisms. While considerable focus has been given to improving food options for school age children, in disadvantaged communities across the U.S., infants and toddlers are suffering from premature death, diet-related disease and becoming obese by age three to four.
Food deserts are defined by analyzing access to supermarkets and other healthy food options; this project defines first food as breastfeeding and “first food deserts,” primarily by assessing the access to and scope of meaningful and consistent breastfeeding support. This project will be a detailed accounting and analysis of resources, characteristics and influencing factors for these areas and then geo map these resources by zip code.
Based on this, the project will also assess the first food “balance” or “imbalance” (First Food Friendly or Unfriendly) of each area when compared to access and support for formula feeding. Every infant has the right to fair and equitable access to the first food. And every mother deserves the support of her community if she chooses to breastfeed.
The First Food Friendly project is being led by Kimberly Seals Allers, a leading commentator and advocate for breastfeeding and Isabel Barillas MPH, a graduate of George Washington University School of Global Health with varied work experience in infant and childhood nutrition.