Susan Devoy: Furore over Weepu


Who would have imagined that an image of Piri Weepu bottle feeding his baby would have caused such an outrage?

The criticism from overzealous supporters of breastfeeding resulted in the image being removed from a forthcoming ad campaign.

As background, Weepu had kindly volunteered to be involved in an advertising campaign for the Health Sponsorship Council (HSC) promoting the message of the importance of a healthy smokefree environment.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

The HSC is a crown entity, it was established in the 90s when the government prohibited tobacco companies from sponsoring sport. Initially it filled a void but over the years it has evolved into a health promotion agency responsible for a number of educational campaigns to support the Smokefree brand such as SunSmart, which is obviously directed at reducing the incidence of skin cancer; Choice Not Chance, which helps people with gambling addictions; and latterly Breakfast Eaters, a nutrition initiative aimed at emphasising the importance of a healthy start to the day.

The HSC is in the process of being disestablished along with the Alcohol Advisory Council - the end result will be a new entity called the Health Promotion Agency. This will incorporate other sectors within the Ministry of Health involved in health promotion.

Undoubtedly a cost efficiency exercise but also an exciting opportunity to bring together some of the fragmented groups all trying to achieve the same outcomes. Which are quite simply improving the overall health status of New Zealanders.

Ironically this in time could include promoting the "breast is best" message.

I genuinely feel sorry for Weepu. The All Blacks are always under scrutiny whichever way they turn. Yet here is a famous and revered sportsperson helping to portray a message and suddenly he is turned upon because he is seen to be bottle feeding his child. We are quick to judge.

For all we know there could have been breast milk in the bottle.We don't know the personal ins and outs of how Weepu and his wife choose to raise their children and neither should we.

And yet the opponents automatically jumped to that conclusion and the conclusion that everyone would suddenly bottle feed their children because an All Black does.

Give me strength, surely the populace of New Zealand isn't that ignorant and the ones that are shouldn't be having children anyway - but sadly we know that's not the case.

All loving mothers and fathers know that breast is best. This is clearly demonstrated in every form of information you receive prior to having children. In hospital every effort is made to ensure that the baby is feeding before leaving hospital - somewhat problematic when the stay in hospital is sometimes too brief. Then you have Plunket and a plethora of other organisations all able to offer assistance if required.

But at the end of the day it is still personal choice and good parents do what is right for their child. They provide food, shelter and love and it all comes in different shapes and forms.

I was bottle fed, as were my six brothers. I never asked why. It didn't seem relevant. I have had four children, and I endeavoured to breast feed all, such is the guilt if you don't.

It wasn't always successful but they seem none the worse for wear. The end you do wants best for mother and baby. There is no truer statement that if mother is happy, the entire family will be too.

Research has shown that breast feeding is the best start for babies, it reduces the incidence of cot death and lowers the risk of obesity but these aren't the only critical risk factors associated to these events.

In life common sense should prevail but seldom does. In this politically correct world where it seems big brother is watching youR every move we should look at the positives. Hundreds of fathers have come out in support of Weepu, as I have.

Using his profile to do some good not for material gain but as an example to others that a smokefree environment is best for everyone.

Weepu wasn't at the Halbergs Awards on Thursday night celebrating the success of the All Blacks but if he was, as a board member of the HSC, I would have apologised profusely for the criticism he received from some quarters but thank him for his genuine intention to provide a healthy environment for his whanau.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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