Tue. May 17th, 2022
Baby formula marketing ‘pervasive, misleading and aggressive’ – UN report |

How marketing formula milk can influence our decisions about infant feeding The World Health Organization (WHO) has released the first in a series of reports.WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEFThe following is an excerpt from an interview with parents, women who are pregnant, and health professionals in eight countries.

More than half of respondents admitted to having been targeted. Formula milk companies

Marketing that is all-consuming

UNICEF and WHO maintain that the $55 billion formula milk industry uses systematic and unethical marketing strategies to influence parents’ infant feeding decisions and exploitative practices that compromise child nutrition and violate international commitments.

“This report shows very clearly that formula milk marketing remains unacceptably pervasive, misleading and aggressive,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, calling for regulations on exploitative marketing to be “urgently adopted and enforced to protect children’s health.”

The report found not only that industry marketing techniques include unregulated and invasive online targeting, but also sponsored advice networks and helplines; offered promotions and free gifts; and influenced health workers’ training and recommendations.

Barriers to breastfeeding

The report highlights that the industry provides misleading and unsubstantiated health information to parents and workers, and it also violates the law. International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes – a landmark public health agreement to protect mothers from aggressive marketing by the baby food industry.

Having surveyed 8,500 parents and pregnant women, and 300 health workers globally, the report found that exposure to formula milk marketing reached 84 per cent of all women surveyed in the United Kingdom; 92 per cent in Viet Nam and 97 per cent in China – increasing their likelihood of choosing formula feeding.

“False and misleading messages about formula feeding are a substantial barrier to breastfeeding, which we know is best for babies and mothers,” Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive director.

Formula milk industry spends billions each year to influence your decision about what to feed your baby.


The formula milk industry spends billions every year to influence what you feed your baby.

False messages

In all countries, mothers expressed strong desire to breastfeed exclusively. This ranged from 49% to Bangladesh to 98% in Morocco.

Yet the WHO/UNICEF report details how a sustained flow of misleading marketing messages is reinforcing myths about breastfeeding and breast-milk, and undermining women’s confidence in their ability to breastfeed successfully.

Ms. Russell called for “robust policies, legislation and investments in breastfeeding” to protect women from unethical marketing practices and give them access “to the information and support they need to raise their families.”


One myth about breastfeeding is that it is not enough breastmilk to provide nutrition for infants; that infant formula increases development or immunity; and, that breast-milk quality decreases with age.

According to the data, Exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the best way to protect your child from malnutrition.

Breastfeeding also acts as babies’ first vaccine, protecting infants against many common childhood illnesses while also reducing future risks of diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer in nursing mothers.

WHO says breastfeeding is the best way to give your baby the nutrients it needs for healthy growth. This can also help prevent the death of 13% of children.

A woman breastfeeds her daughter at the Quebec Aquarium in Canada.

Vincent Cardinal

Canada’s Quebec Aquarium: A mother breastfeeds her child

Formula milkTwenty years later, ales are twice as popular

Even with these advantages, around 44% of infants less than 6 months old are exclusively breastfed.

Global breastfeeding rates have not increased significantly over the last two decades. However, formula milk sales have nearly doubled in the same period.

Alarmingly, the report reveals that baby-feeding industry representatives approached health workers in all countries with promotional items, research funding, and sales commissions to influence mothers’ feeding decisions.

Over a third of women polled said that a healthcare worker had recommended a certain brand of formula.

The challenges to be addressed

Following the report launch, WHO, UNICEF and partners called on Governments, health workers, and the baby food industry to end exploitative marketing on formula milk.

They also appealed for the Code’s requirements to be fully implemented, including by passing, monitoring and enforcing laws to prevent formula milk promotion; investing in supportive breastfeeding policies and programmes, such as adequate paid parental leave; and banning health workers from accepting sponsorship from companies that market foods for infants and young children for scholarships, awards, grants, meetings, or events.

International guidelines prohibit the marketing of formula milk and tobacco. 

In this instance, the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

By admin