The commercial milk formula (CMF) industry uses marketing tactics similar to those of the tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food industries.
Earlier this winter, the Lancet published a three-paper series outlining the multifaceted and highly effective strategies used by commercial formula manufacturers to target parents, health-care professionals, and policy-makers.
“The industry’s dubious marketing practices—in breach of the breastfeeding Code—are compounded by lobbying of governments, often covertly via trade associations and front groups, against strengthening breastfeeding protection laws and challenging food standard regulations,” the Lancet summarizes.
Two new publications corroborate WHO findings on the digital marketing of commercial milk formulas in Mexico:
- Digital marketing of formula and baby food negatively influences breast feeding and complementary feeding: a cross-sectional study and video recording of parental exposure in Mexico
- Digital marketing of commercial breastmilk substitutes and baby foods: strategies, and recommendations for its regulation in Mexico
In another recent publication, Pediatricians’ Reports of Interaction with Infant Formula Companies, the authors found that: “Of 200 participants, the majority reported a formula company representative visit to their clinic (85.5%) and receiving free formula samples (90%). Representatives were more likely to visit areas with higher-income patients (median = $100K versus $60K, p < 0.001). They tended to visit and sponsor meals for pediatricians at private practices and in suburban areas. Most of the reported conferences attended (64%) were formula company-sponsored.”
The authors write that “Seventy percent of countries follow the World Health Organization International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes that prohibits infant formula companies (IFC) from providing free products to health care facilities, providing gifts to health care staff, or sponsoring meetings. The United States rejects this code, which may impact breastfeeding rates in certain areas.”
The Lancet series authors provide recommendations to restrict the marketing of CMF to protect the health and wellness of mothers and babies, and ultimately society and the planet.
- Curtail the power and political activities of the CMF industry
- End state practices that do not uphold, or that violate, the rights of women and children
- Recognise, resource, and redistribute women’s care work burdens in support of breastfeeding
- Address structural deficiencies and commercial conflicts of interest in health systems
- Increase public finance and correct the misalignment between private and public interests
- Mobilise and resource advocacy coalitions to generate political commitment for breastfeeding
In Mexico, UNICEF and Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública have designed infographics for policymakers as well as parents and caregivers to educate on the impact of digital marketing.
The partners are also working on proposed modifications to current Mexican regulations that involve commercial formula milk and ultra processed food marketing to infants and young children. Further, development is underway for a mobile app tool for monitoring the Code in Mexico.
Legislation in El Salvador was recently passed–“Love Converted into Food Law, for the Promotion, Protection, and Support of Breastfeeding.”
PAHO is monitoring the implementation of the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative in the Americas BFHI requires full compliance with the Code and subsequent WHA resolutions.
In other efforts to protect parents and babies, Breastfeeding Advocacy Australia released a video on how the organization monitors predatory marketing. Find it here. You can find their Facebook group here.
- Health Policy Watch’s After Years of ‘Pathologising’ Normal Baby Behaviour to Sell Products, Experts Want a Ban on Infant Formula Marketing
- Marketing to mothers who have just miscarried
- Healthy Eating Research’s Reducing Digital Marketing of Infant Formulas
- ISSOP Position Statement on sponsorship of paediatricians/paediatric societies by the Baby Feeding Industry
- Access to Nutrition Initiave’s (ATNI) work on the Code and WHA resolutions
Follow IBFAN’s coverage of the 43rd Codex Nutrition Session of the Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses here.