Global formula milk marketing under the spotlight

Leading global health experts today launch a new offensive against the formula milk industry, questioning its safety and marketing tactics.

Globally, only half of new born babies are put to the breast within their first hour, as per World Health Organisation recommendations, and fewer than half of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed. Benefits of breastfeeding include optimum nutrients and reduced infection risks, according to reports in The Lancet.

The 2023 Lancet Series on Breastfeeding today covers the economic and political power of the big formula milk companies, as well as "serious public policy failures" that hold back millions of women from breastfeeding their children.

Professor Nigel Rollins, Scientist at the World Health Organization and author of one of the papers, said: “Actions are needed across different areas of society to better support mothers to breastfeed for as long as they want, alongside efforts to tackle exploitative formula milk marketing once and for all.”

The series recommends vastly improved support for breastfeeding in health care and social protection systems, such as sufficient paid maternity leave and an end to misleading marketing claims and strategic lobbying.

Following a report into Nestle’s formula marketing in the 1970s, an International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes was formed by the World Health Assembly in 1981.

Despite this and further resolution, intensive marketing of infant formula continues largely unabated, say the authors, with the market worth about $55bn US dollars per year.

Professor Linda Richter of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, commented: “The formula milk industry uses poor science to suggest, with little supporting evidence, that their products are solutions to common infant health and developmental challenges. This clearly violates the 1981 Code.”

Professor Rollins added: "It is time for this to end. Women should be empowered to make choices about infant feeding which are informed by accurate information free from industry influence.”

Perez-Escamilla, R. et al. Breastfeeding: crucially important, but increasingly challenged in a market-driven.

Rollins, N. et al. Marketing of commercial milk formula: a system to capture parents, communities, science, and policy.

Baker, P. et al. The political economy of infant and young child feeding: confronting corporate power, overcoming structural barriers, and accelerating progress.

Lancet 8 February 2023 doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(22)01932-8 [Link]

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