Parents warned against exploitation by milk formula marketers

Monday, March 7th, 2022 01:10 | By

Aggressive milk formula marketing is exploiting parents and pregnant mothers, compromising international standards of infant feeding practices, a new report by the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) is now warning.

Over 50 per cent of parents and pregnant women surveyed say they have been targeted with marketing from formula milk companies. The industry is worth a staggering $ 55 billion (Sh6.3 trillion) and has massive influence over parent’s infant feeding decisions.

The report, How Marketing of Formula Milk Influences Our Decisions On Infant Feeding, draws on interviews with parents, pregnant women and health workers in eight countries.

It uncovers systematic and unethical marketing strategies used by the formula milk industry.

The report finds that industry marketing techniques include unregulated and invasive online targeting sponsored advice networks and helplines, promotions and free gifts

These practices influence training and recommendations among health workers.

The messages that parents and health workers receive are often misleading, scientifically unsubstantiated, and violate the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes  – a landmark public health agreement passed by the World Health Assembly in 1981 to protect mothers from aggressive marketing practices by the baby food industry.

“This report shows clearly that formula milk marketing remains unacceptably pervasive, misleading and aggressive,” said Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

He adds that  regulations on exploitative marketing must be urgently adopted and enforced to protect children’s health.

According to the report, which surveyed 8,500 parents and pregnant women, and 300 health workers in cities across Bangladesh, China, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Vietnam, exposure to formula milk marketing reaches 84 per cent of all women surveyed in the United Kingdom; 92 per cent of those surveyed in Vietnam and 97 per cent ofin China, increasing their likelihood of choosing formula feeding.

UNICEF executive director, Dr Catherine Russell, says false and misleading messages about formula feeding are a substantial barrier to breastfeeding, which we know is best for babies and mothers.

“We need robust policies, legislation and investments in breastfeeding to ensure that women are protected from unethical marketing practices – and have access to the information and support they need to raise their families,” asserted Dr Russell.

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