By Isabel Saco
Geneva, Feb 23 (EFE).- Parents and pregnant women are being targeted by the formula milk industry with aggressive and misleading marketing ploys that often breach international standards on infant nutrition, the World Health Organization warned in a report published Wednesday.
The ‘How marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding’ report is the first cross-country study on advertising practices of formula milk and draws on interviews with health workers, parents and pregnant women, with over 50% saying they had been targeted by these companies.
“A large percentage of the violations that we see take place on social media networks and this is a serious problem. We are not suggesting women should be banned from talking about formula milk and sharing their experiences. The issue is when companies use networks for their publicity and put anti-breastfeeding messages out there,” Larry Grummer-Strawn, one of the report’s authors, told Efe.
Formula companies use false or biased information about breast milk in campaigns as well as “invasive online targeting” and a steady flow of misleading information about breastfeeding that undermines “women’s confidence in their ability to breastfeed successfully.”
The $55 billion industry systematically breaches a landmark agreement, the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, penned in 1981 to protect mothers from aggressive marketing by the infant food industry, according to the report.
Although all countries agree with the Code in principle, only 25 nations have laws in place that protect mothers and pregnant women from these marketing abuses, Grummer-Strawn added.
Breastfeeding rates have remained virtually the same over the last 20 years with only 44% of babies aged 0-6 months being exclusively breastfed, while sales of formula milk have more than doubled.
The report also flags that health workers are often targeted by formula milk companies to influence new mothers’ decisions on whether to breastfeed by offering them promotions and free gifts.
“We see a lot of conflicts of interest as the industry tries to directly push politicians to change things or not. This industry turns over a lot of money and exerts its power to push for laws they can benefit from,” Grummer-Strawn said.
The report suggests the marketing of formula milk should be regulated to use neutral labeling.
“Labels are an advertising method. The messages are on the labels. Images and the illustrations that are designed to convey that the product is the best option and this undermines breastfeeding,” the expert said.
Breast milk within the first hour of a baby’s life followed by exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continuing for up to two years or more offers children protection against common diseases and prevents the risk of diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer in mothers.
According to WHO, breastfeeding can prevent 13% of child deaths.EFE