Editorial: We’ll Miss You, Ben
Benjamin Spock was a gentle man. But he never shied away from the truth, no matter how controversial it was. In an era when parenting was dominated by the “spare the rod and spoil the child” philosophy, Spock championed a more warm and loving approach while still maintaining high standards for children. When he saw the threat of war, he spoke out, demonstrated, and got arrested for doing so.
In 1992, Dr. Spock spoke at PCRM’s press conference in Boston, alerting parents to emerging evidence of potential health risks of milk products. Studies had linked anemia and childhood-onset diabetes to milk exposure in infancy. Needless to say, the press went wild. Was the nation’s leading baby doctor really suggesting that there could be problems with something as seemingly innocent as a glass of milk?
Indeed, research studies had shown that dairy proteins could spark the production of antibodies that appeared to be able to destroy the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Antibodies to cow’s milk were found in blood samples taken from children recently diagnosed with diabetes. Researchers found that breast-fed children were largely protected against the disease, compared to those fed cow’s milk formulas. The dairy industry fought back, calling the studies preliminary and alarmist.
The American Academy of Pediatrics entered the fray, convening a working group to study the issue. In 1994, the Academy reported that more than 90 studies had been completed and more were underway and that, indeed, there was reason to be concerned about milk’s link to diabetes. Spock and PCRM were right.
In 1995, Dr. Spock, along with Dr. Henry Heimlich, spoke at PCRM’s San Diego press conference kicking off a major effort by PCRM to revamp the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the nation’s blueprint for all nutrition programs. The following year, the Guidelines were rewritten to officially acknowledge the benefits of vegetarian diets for the first time in U.S. history.
In May 1998, the seventh edition of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care was published. In it, Spock encourages parents not to send their children down the road of meats, dairy products, and junk food, and instead to serve healthy, vegetarian foods at home. If parents heed his advice, perhaps they can beat the odds that now dictate that two out of three children grow up to develop either heart disease or cancer and the majority struggle with chronic weight problems.
Unfortunately, Ben did not live to see it published. He died on March 15, 1998, just shy of his 95th birthday.
He was a lifelong activist and a member of our Advisory Board, but we remember Ben as a strong yet gentle friend, and perhaps the best doctor a generation could ever have.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM