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Ongoing baby formula shortage highlights racial disparities

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Baby formula is still in high demand despite federal efforts to alleviate this nationwide shortage.

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Some experts say this burden is even higher for Black and brown women who are facing additional barriers.

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In cities like Memphis, TN community groups are trying to fill the gap.

During a recent formula giveaway, Sweet Cheeks Diaper Ministry says they had a line of cars down the block and didn’t turn anyone away.

So far, they’ve handed out more than a thousand canisters this summer.

“Even though we were able to give like two canisters, that’s not really a lot, especially if you have multiple children or that’s your main source of feeding your child,” said Cori Smith, executive director of Sweet Cheeks Diaper Ministry.

The Biden Administration says they’ve imported more than 55 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents of infant formula from international partners as of July 17, but Smith said she hasn’t seen any of it.

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“Even on our end when we purchase, I can clearly see that prices have been marked up over previous months,” said Smith.

The shortage is also highlighting racial disparities.

Recent CDC data shows only about 20 percent of Black and Hispanic women exclusively breastfeed for six months, compared to 29 percent of white women.

“Some women are weaning, because their breast milk supply starts to dry up rapidly once they go back to work and that’s because they can’t pump during the day. They may not have enough time to pump efficiently,” said Dr. Donna Ivery, board certified OB-GYN.

Without access to formula, Dr. Ivery said some families may turn to solid foods too soon.

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“Food insecure families who can’t get formula and don’t have the extra cash to go buy it themselves are going to start weaning their babies early because WIC will cover milk,” said Ivery. “So those children will be forced to start eating before their physiology is ready and then that has further implication down the line when it comes to health parameters, caloric intake, and nutritional intake.”

A bill that would provide $28 million in emergency funding for the FDA help alleviate the formula shortage is still stalled on Capitol Hill.

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