Protip for People magazine

Dear friends at People,

It must be terribly disappointing to work hard on something, only to be forced to remove it. I know how frustrating it is when I’ve worked on an article, only to discover that it’s not going to see the light of day after all. All that effort for naught!

So bummer for all of you that you had to take down that recipe for home-made goat’s milk infant formula your website posted the other day. We’re actually kind of in the same boat, in that I had this whole long angry post I’d written in response that I had to scrap. Kindred spirits, really, you and I.

The recipe was one made up by Kristin Cavallari, a reality TV star whose existence was otherwise pretty much unknown to me up until this point. (Truth be told, People, the primary purpose you serve in my life now is to reinforce how old I am when I stare at your covers in the grocery check-out aisle and have no idea who any of the people are.) Apparently Cavallari whipped up the formula in consultation with her pediatrician (a person with whom I would love to exchange a few words), due to her children’s milk sensitivities and her own skepticism about commercial formula. You did her a solid by promoting it under your “Great Ideas” banner, an irony I noted in my now-deleted first draft. *dabs solitary tear*

Except whoopsie-do! As many people quickly pointed out, goat’s milk infant formula is a terrible idea. Among the many problems with an infant diet based on goat’s milk are at least two different kinds of anemia, both potentially quite serious. In fact, so strong is the association between deficiency of the vitamin folate and a goat’s milk diet that a question about it invariably pops up in practice tests for pediatric certification exams — if you say “goat’s milk,” my brain immediately thinks “folate deficiency.”

Faced with the whole “this actually has the potential to critically sicken infants” response, you pulled the recipe. Which is good, if perhaps not as good as never having promoted it in the first place.

But how, oh how could this have been avoided? You’re in the business of talking about famous people, and famous people so often have such fascinating health ideas to recommend. If only there were some easy way of screening out celebrities whose opinions about health topics were best ignored.

You’re in luck, though, People. At least when it comes to health advice for children, there is a quick, simple question you can ask that will help eliminate at least some of the risk that the famous person you’re talking to wants to spread medical misinformation.

Does this person oppose vaccinations? If the answer if “yes,” the best advice I can give you is to smile politely and change the subject.

This would have saved you so much trouble with Cavallari, who (as you noted) takes an anti-vaccination “stance.” (So legitimizing, that word “stance” of yours.) Once you knew this about her, you could have avoided promulgating a formula recipe with the potential to wreck a baby’s hematocrit.

With this little guideline in mind, you can spare yourself more wasted work and heartache. A person (famous or otherwise) who thinks vaccinations are poison is likely to have a shaky relationship with medical evidence, at best. That one little data point is enough to tell you it’s best to include something other than their healthcare views in your fawning coverage.

Photo by seanmfreese

Daniel Summers

Daniel Summers is a pediatrician in New England, formerly known hereabouts under the pseudonym Russell Saunders. He contributes to The Daily Beast, and his writing has appeared in Salon, Cato Unbound, iO9, and The New Republic. You can follow him on Twitter @WFKARS


  1. As of this writing, my favorite line for one of the blog posts you linked to was, “Kristen Cavallari, former star of the not-so-real-reality show The Hills, and her husband Jay Cutler, insert something about football here, are well on their way to transforming their terrible life choices into dollar signs.”

    I will insert something about football there, I will indeed!

  2. It is so good to have your biting wit back, good Doctor.

  3. Its PEOPLE magazine, Doc… Not INFANTS magazine. They’re job isn’t to ensure the safety of infants, its to promote certain people.

    How is a no-talent waste supposed to keep herself promotable without putting a few unpromotable lumps of barely-people in harm’s way?

  4. Anyone who takes medical/nutrition advice from people mag…

    Well…you deserve what you get.

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