More than half of parents and pregnant women surveyed for a new WHO/UNICEF report say they have received advertising for breast-milk substitutes (also called “artificial milk” and “infant formula”), often in violation of international standards on infant feeding .
The report, entitled How the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes Influences Our Infant Feeding Decisions-in English , is based on interviews with parents, pregnant women and health workers in eight countries and reveals the systematic and unethical promotion used by the manufacturers of these products, which report 55,000 million dollars (50,000 million euros) in sales, in order to influence the decisions made by parents regarding the feeding of their children.
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Unregulated and invasive advertising
According to the report, this industry uses marketing techniques such as unregulated and invasive online advertising, the use of sponsored advice networks and hotlines, free giveaways and promotions, and practices aimed at influencing the formation of health personnel and the recommendations made by these workers.
The messages parents and health workers receive are often misleading , unscientific , and contrary to the International Code of Marketing of Breast – Milk Substitutes , a landmark public health agreement adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 to protect mothers from abusive marketing practices used by infant food manufacturers.
More than half (51%) of parents and pregnant women surveyed for the report said they had been subjected to abusive marketing on the subject by formula or “infant formula” companies.
After surveying 8,500 parents and pregnant women, and 300 health workers, the report indicated that exposure to this marketing of formula milk reached 84% of women surveyed in the United Kingdom, 92% in Vietnam and 97% in China, “Which increases their likelihood of choosing formula feeding.”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has noted:
“This report makes it abundantly clear that the marketing of breast-milk substitutes is overly widespread , misleading and aggressive . Regulations on misleading marketing are urgently needed and must be enforced to protect children’s health.”
For her part, Catherine Russell , Executive Director of UNICEF , said:
” False and misleading information about breast-milk substitutes is a major barrier to breastfeeding, which we know is the best solution for babies and their mothers. Strong policies and laws are needed to support breastfeeding. ” breastfeeding and invest sufficiently in it to protect women from unethical business practices and ensure they have access to the information and support they need to raise their children.
“False and misleading information about breast-milk substitutes is a major obstacle to breastfeeding, which we know is the best solution for babies and their mothers,” Catherine Russell (UNICEF).
In all countries surveyed, women expressed their determination to exclusively breastfeed their children, with percentages ranging from 49% of women in Morocco to 98% in Bangladesh.
However, the report shows that there is a constant stream of misleading advertising that reinforces myths about breastfeeding and breast milk and makes women doubt their ability to breastfeed.
For example, it is explained that in the first days after birth the baby must be given artificial preparations, that breast milk is not adapted to the nutritional needs of the newborn, that it has been shown that breast milk substitutes contain substances that improve the child’s development and immunity, that these formulas keep babies full for longer, and that the quality of breast milk declines over time.
Breastfeeding for the first hour of life, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding until the child is two years old or older, is an unbeatable method of combating all forms of child malnutrition. including wasting and obesity. In addition, it works as the first vaccine for the newborn and protects it against many common diseases in childhood.
Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer in women later in life. However, according to data from around the world, only 44% of children under 6 months are exclusively breastfed.
Global breastfeeding rates have increased very little over the past two decades, while sales of substitutes have more than doubled over the same period.
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Bad practices of health companies and employees
Another issue of concern is the finding that, according to the report, companies that manufacture baby food are targeting large numbers of health workers in all countries to influence the recommendations they provide to women who have just giving birth.
These companies give health personnel gifts, free samples or funds for research ; they organize meetings, events and conferences with expenses paid, and even offer commissions on sales, all of which directly affect the decisions of parents regarding the feeding of their children.
What can be done?
To address these issues, WHO, UNICEF and their partners are calling on governments, health workers and infant food manufacturers to end the inappropriate promotion of these products and to implement and fully complies with the International Code. To that end, it is recommended:
- Enact, enforce, and enforce laws to prevent the promotion of breast-milk substitutes in accordance with the International Code, including prohibiting manufacturers from making nutrition and health claims.
- Invest in policies and programs to support breastfeeding , for example by offering paid maternity and paternity leave in accordance with international standards, and develop breastfeeding support activities of sufficient quality.
- Require manufacturers to publicly commit to full compliance with the International Code and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions worldwide.
- Prohibit health personnel from accepting sponsorship from companies that market foods for infants and young children, whether through scholarships, awards, grants, meetings, or events.