© UNSPLASH/Holie Santos
A mother carrying her newborn baby.
Parents and pregnant women globally are exposed to aggressive marketing for baby formula milk, according to a report launched jointly by two UN agencies on Tuesday.
How marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding, the first report in a series by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), draws on interviews with parents, pregnant women, and health workers in eight countries.
More than half of those surveyed acknowledged that they had been targeted by formula milk companies.
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,” said 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 underlines that the industry often delivers misleading and scientifically unsubstantiated information to parents and health workers and also violates the 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,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
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