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personal finance is like public health

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I drink far too much caffeine

I have an excuse though. At work we get free (instant) coffee and tea, and I don’t like tea. Of course, that’s a simplification. After complaints, there’s now a choice of coffees, you can have Fairtrade caffeinated coffee, Nescafe caffeinated coffee or Nescafe decaffeinated coffee. I’m not a big fan of Nestle, and I do like to trade fair so I drink the Fairtrade caffeinated coffee.

what was wrong with Nestle?

Does anyone remember The Mark Thomas Comedy Project, where the comedian campaigned against various unethical practices and did a stand-up show about the experiences? That’s what put me onto the idea that Nescafe are one of the least ethical companies for their gross marketing of formula milk in the third world. This is formula milk without necessarily having instructions that people can understand, and suggesting in advertising that it is somehow better than breast milk. Not cool.

so is baby feeding that simple?

These days, the situation is somewhat more nuanced, as many public health issues are. The complications are caused by the HIV/Aids epidemic. Breast feeding is better than bottle feeding, unless the mother is HIV+. In that case, not passing on the virus through breast milk is more important than the nutritional benefits of breast milk (all formula milk is safe to use as directed), and of course in some areas of the developing world HIV/Aids is endemic, particularly amongst people of childbearing age.

Think it’s sorted? Wait a minute. Although the risk of an infant catching HIV through breast milk is approximately %, there’s another hitch. Formula milk is expensive and not everyone can afford it. It requires clean water, which not everyone has access to (certainly not clean enough to give a newborn). Where everyone breastfeeds, mothers who bottlefeed can be stigmatised and mixed feeding is more dangerous than breastfeeding. The instructions are not always clear enough for people to understand, or may be in a foreign language. For a significant number of mothers and children, the risk of contracting HIV through breastmilk is less important in the survival of the child than the risk that they will be malnourished or get sick by being given poorly prepared formula.

So the final answer for mothers of new babies is that you should breastfeed, unless you are HIV+ in which case you should bottle feed, unless you can’t safely/easily make up formula milk over the first 6-12 months, in which case you should breastfeed. Can you see the catchy slogan now?

and what does this have to do with personal finance?

Like I said, public health issues are nuanced. Much like personal finance issues. There’s never a single right answer that suits everybody in every circumstance all the time. Sure, you should live within your means, but that’s like saying that you should feed your baby - not big on the practical details. And for everything else, from whether you should pay off debts before saving, to how much you should contribute to kids college, to how much money you’ll need in retirement, the only simple true answer is, it depends. Because personal finance, is well, personal.

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13 comments for “personal finance is like public health”

  1. As someone who works in P Health, I applaud you on this post, fabulous!

    Posted by Frugal Trenches | August 28, 2008, 6:50 pm
  2. As another from the field of Public Health I totally agree with Frugal Trenches, great post! However- how can you possibly not like tea?!

    Posted by Looby | August 28, 2008, 7:10 pm
  3. It is concerning - do you think they’ll make me hand in my passport?

    Posted by plonkee | August 28, 2008, 7:30 pm
  4. I think it’s only right that you should. Maybe now is the time to seriously consider the Wisconsin move!

    Posted by Looby | August 28, 2008, 8:50 pm
  5. Isn’t it a bit cold in the winter though?

    Posted by plonkee | August 28, 2008, 9:20 pm
  6. Have you tried green tea?

    Posted by Jeremy | August 28, 2008, 9:34 pm
  7. OK Florida then! Or Seattle- coffee capital and very similar weather to the UK (Although if you were considering this option my personal recommendation would be Vancouver or Portland- nicer cities, same weather and lots of coffee! On a personal finance note- Vancouver probably has cheaper healthcare and sushi, but Portland has 0 sales tax- decisions, decisions…)

    Posted by Looby | August 28, 2008, 9:40 pm
  8. There is an insane amount of caffeine in the food stream nowadays. It’s like everything has to have caffeine in it. Did you know these is a caffeinated SOAP? Ridiculous. It’s everywhere. You can be a cafJunkie and not even know it. I know I am.

    Posted by thinkingthing | August 29, 2008, 3:31 am
  9. I’m an epidemiologist at my state health department, AND a breastfeeding mom to a 22 month old daughter. I enjoyed this post and hear you all the way on the personal finance comparison!

    Posted by jessica | August 29, 2008, 12:21 pm
  10. So to make this more complicated - being HIV+ doesn’t always mean you can’t BF, particularly if you are on ART and can exclusively BF for 3-6 months. And if you can’t BF, then second best option is wet nurse and then formula. What does that say about personal finance. :)

    Much like the debate over “good debt” and “bad debt” and “needs” vs “wants”…

    Posted by deepali | August 29, 2008, 4:50 pm
  11. though we know few things are not good for health but eat and drink them. it is just foolishness to do that. in future they all cause serious health problems.

    Posted by ResV | March 13, 2009, 5:58 am

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