‘Voldemort’ and health professional knowledge of breastfeeding – do journal titles and abstracts accurately convey findings on differential health outcomes for formula fed infants?

Julie P Smith, Mark D Dunstone and Megan E Elliott-Rudder

Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health Working Paper Number 4, December 2008


Effective promotion of breastfeeding is constrained if health professionals’ knowledge on its importance is deficient. This study asks if findings are easily accessed by health professionals; that is, whether formula feeding is ‘named’ as the risk factor in published research, or whether — like ‘Voldemort’ in Harry Potter —it is ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named’.

Our systematic analysis of information content of titles and abstracts of 78 studies which had reported poorer health among formula infants showed that their titles and abstracts avoid mentioning formula. Initiatives to increase breastfeeding have described the importance of accurate language, and well informed health professional support. This study showed a surprising “Voldemort effect” in the studies examined; formula feeding was rarely named as an exposure increasing health risk in publication titles or abstracts. If widespread, this skew in communication of research findings may reduce health professionals’ knowledge and support for breastfeeding.

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