The World Health Organization and UNICEF have published a new report that summarizes the findings of a multi-national study examining the impact of formula milk marketing on infant feeding decisions and practices. The research study, the largest of its kind to date, draws on the experiences of over 8,000 women and more than 300 health professionals across eight countries to expose aggressive and misleading marketing practices used by the formula milk industry, highlighting the impact on women and families, and outlining opportunities for action.

Foreward (from the study presentation):

“As societies, we are failing to protect our children from the marketing of products that undermine their health and development. One of the most egregious examples of this is the aggressive promotion of commercial milk formula for babies and young children.

“As detailed in this report, formula milk marketing – powered by enormous budgets and the deliberate misuse of science – is driving over-consumption of formula milk and discouraging breastfeeding. It is also undermining women’s confidence and cynically exploiting parents’ instinct to do the best for their children.

“The consequences for children and families are significant. Consumption of milk formula can adversely affect children’s health, growth and development. It also incurs significant costs for families who can ill afford it.

“Let us be clear: breastfeeding is the best possible source of nutrition for babies. Decades of research continue to reveal its incredible properties for growth, preventing infections, bonding, and brain development. Breastfeeding also supports the health of mothers.

“Formula milk has its place for women and parents who are not able or do not want to breastfeed, often the result of other factors – such as employment – that are not supportive of breastfeeding.

“The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes is a landmark public health agreement passed by the World Health Assembly in 1981. Yet exploitative marketing practices continue in defiance of the Code. Digital media have been used to further amplify the reach and impact of marketing of formula milk. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies continue to prey on parents’ fears to increase sales of milk formula.

“This report clearly lays out the issues at stake and points to the actions needed to protect children and families, from robust domestic legislation, to responding to digital marketing practices, to highlighting the need for broader investments in breastfeeding.

“We owe it to our children to ensure that women and families are protected from unethical marketing practices and are equipped with accurate information and support.”

Read the full report here.

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