In a new Lancet series, experts demand restrictions on exploitative formula milk marketing

lancet formula milk

According to a new three-paper series just published in The Lancet, the marketing strategies used by the formula milk industry are exploitative, and immediate restrictions are required to address false claims and political influence. According to The Lancet papers, industry influence gravely jeopardizes the health and rights of mothers and children by campaigning against crucial breastfeeding assistance measures.

Professor Nigel Rollins, Scientist at WHO and author of a paper on formula milk marketing, stated that “this new research highlights the vast economic and political power of the big formula milk companies, as well as serious public policy failures that prevent millions of women from breastfeeding their children.” Along with measures to end deceptive formula milk marketing once and for all, actions are required in several spheres of society to better support mothers in breastfeeding for however long they choose.

For infants and young children, breastfeeding has enormous and incomparable advantages. It provides significant nutritional benefits, lowers the risk of infection, lowers rates of obesity and chronic diseases in later life, and aids in children’s survival and development to the fullest extent possible. However, despite WHO recommendations, only around one in two babies are nursed exclusively in the first hour of life and less than half of infants under six months are. The Lancet series urges significantly stronger support for breastfeeding within healthcare and social protection systems, particularly securing enough paid maternity leave, in light of the enormous benefits breastfeeding has for people’s health. The papers emphasize that there are currently 650 million women without proper maternity protections. By raising concerns about nursing and infant care, deceptive marketing claims and shrewd lobbying by the dairy and formula milk industries further compound the difficulties parents encounter.

The Baby Killer investigative report, which examined Nestle’s marketing of formula milk in low- and middle-income countries in the 1970s, prompted the World Health Assembly to pass the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Code) in 1981 and a number of subsequent resolutions. Despite this, infant formula continues to be highly marketed, with sales of these products already approaching US$55 billion yearly.

The first piece in the Lancet series explains how misleading marketing claims that commercial milk products will, for instance, lessen fussiness or screaming, help with colic, or lengthen overnight sleep prey on parents’ worries about common infant behaviour. The authors stress that, as long as mothers receive the right support, such parental concerns can be successfully managed with exclusive breastfeeding.

According to Professor Linda Richter of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, the formula milk industry “uses weak research to argue, with little supporting data, that their products are solutions to common baby health and developmental difficulties.” The 1981 Code, which states that labels shall not idealize the use of formula to sell additional product, is obviously violated by this marketing strategy.

The series illustrates how formula milk marketing abuses gender politics while taking advantage of society’s and governments’ lack of support for breastfeeding. This includes portraying support for exclusive breastfeeding as a moral judgment while promoting milk formula as a practical and effective alternative for working women.

The television show emphasizes the industry’s ability to sway national political outcomes and obstruct international regulatory procedures. Particularly, the dairy and infant formula industries have created a network of unaccountable trade associations and front organizations that advocate against legislation protecting breastfeeding or regulating infant formula quality.

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