New WHO research urges an end to aggressive formula milk marketing that discourages breastfeeding
Accessed from the world wide web at 14:00 hrs 22.02.22.
As societies, we are failing to protect our children from the aggressive marketing of formula milk that can undermine their health, finds the new WHO–UNICEF global report titled “How marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding”.
According to the report, in every part of the world the formula milk industry – powered by enormous budgets and deliberate misuse of science – is driving overconsumption of formula milk and discouraging breastfeeding while exploiting parents’ instinct to do the best for their children.
The largest study of its kind, the publication draws its conclusions from the experiences of over 8500 pregnant women and mothers of young children and 300 health professionals across 8 countries.
Marketing that violates the human rights of both the mother and her child
Promotion strategies are not limited to different types of media and social networks. More than one third of the women surveyed said that breast-milk substitutes (BMS) had been recommended to them by a health worker. This suggests that the baby feeding industry is actively approaching the health sector to pursue its business interests, ignoring evidence-based health practices.
Breastfeeding not only ensures the best conditions for growth and development, but also lowers children’s risks of obesity and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in later years. WHO recommends exclusively breastfeeding children during the first 6 months of life and continuing breastfeeding (alongside appropriate complementary feeding) up to 2 years or beyond.
Globally, only 44% of babies less than 6 months old are exclusively breastfed. Global breastfeeding rates have increased very little in the past 2 decades, while sales of formula milk have more than doubled in roughly the same time, says the WHO global report.
When manufacturers of BMS target mothers with promotional material intended to persuade them to give up breastfeeding and switch to inferior and expensive substitutes, they are violating the human rights of both the mother and her child.
The WHO European Region: protecting the most vulnerable
The aggressive formula milk marketing is especially worrying for the WHO European Region. Of all the WHO regions, it has the lowest levels of exclusive breastfeeding for children.
The new WHO data show that 84% of pregnant and postpartum women in the United Kingdom are exposed to formula milk marketing.
To counter this trend, the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of NCDs (NCD Office) has published a new policy brief, tailored for the WHO European Region, titled “Effective regulatory frameworks for ending inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes and foods for infants and young children in the WHO European Region”.
This policy brief provides step-by-step guidance and useful tools for Member States to create or amend their legal systems to safeguard parents and caregivers from all forms of promotion of BMS and inappropriate promotion of foods intended for young children. It also includes a model law developed specifically for the Region to demonstrate what effective regulation should look like and help countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives of the European Programme of Work, 2020–2025, which promotes united action for better health.
The WHO guidance is based on the following 6 recommendations:
- Promote optimal infant and young child feeding.
- Prohibit all promotion of products that function as BMS.
- Apply and develop standards for foods for infants and young children.
- Define appropriate messages that are permitted for use in the promotion of foods for infants and young children and prohibit inappropriate ones.
- Prohibit cross-promotion of BMS when promoting foods for infants and young children.
- Eliminate conflict of interest in the health-care system.
The NCD Office is adapting its CLICK protocol to collect data from mothers about their exposure to digital marketing of commercial formula milk in several countries in the Region.