WHO reveals shocking scale of mis-marketing of breast milk substitutes

“Baby formula makers pay social media platforms and influencers to gain direct access to pregnant women and mothers at the moments in their lives when they are most vulnerable,” WHO said in a statement. .

The new WHO report, entitled Scope and impact of digital marketing for the promotion of breast milk substitutessheds light on digital marketing techniques intended to influence the decisions new families make about feeding their children.

Purchase and collection of personal information

Through tools such as apps, virtual support groups or ‘baby clubs’, paid social media influencers, promotions, contests and forums or consulting services, infant formula manufacturers can purchase or collect personal information and send personalized promotions to women. pregnant and mothers of newborns.

Baby food manufacturers post content to their social media accounts about 90 times a day and reach 229 million users.

Four million infant feeding posts posted on social media between January and June 2021 were sampled and analyzed using a social media business intelligence platform for the report. These posts reached 2.47 billion people and generated over 12 million likes, shares or comments.

Formula milk producers post content to their social media accounts about 90 times a day and reach 229 million users, three times the number of people reached by breastfeeding informational posts on non-commercial social media account platforms, he reports. the WHO.

Double detrimental effect of misleading marketing

This pervasive marketing increases sales of breastmilk substitutes and at the same time dissuades mothers from exclusive breastfeeding, as recommended by the WHO.

According to the Director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety of the WHO, Dr. Francesco Branca, the promotion of infant formula on the market should have been stopped decades ago.

“The fact that the manufacturers of these preparations are now using even more powerful and insidious marketing techniques to increase their sales is inexcusable. This has to stop, “said Dr. Branca.

The report is based on evidence of public communications monitoring posted on social media and national reports analyzing promotions for breastmilk substitutes, as well as a recent multinational study with mothers and healthcare professionals to understand their feelings about the marketing of infant formula.

WHO complains that “misleading marketing reinforces misconceptions about breastfeeding and breast milk and undermines women’s confidence in their ability to meet the nutritional needs of their babies through breastfeeding.”

Weakening of the marketing code for breast milk substitutes

The proliferation of global digital marketing of infant formula is in clear violation of the International Code for the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes (the “Code”), adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981. This important public health agreement aims to protect populations and mothers against aggressive marketing practices of the baby food industry, which undermine breastfeeding practices.

“Although clear data shows that exclusive and continued breastfeeding is a key factor in improving the health of children, women and the population throughout life, too few children are breastfed, as the recommendations recommend,” he points out. the WHO.

“If current infant formula marketing strategies continue, the share of breastfed babies could decline further, increasing corporate profits,” the global health agency warned.

WHO calls for the adoption of new provisions to strengthen the implementation of the “Code”.

“The fact that these forms of digital marketing may escape the scrutiny of national health and monitoring authorities illustrates the need for new approaches to regulate the implementation of the Code and enforce its provisions,” said the UN agency. adding that currently “national legislation can be circumvented by marketing activities from cross-border countries”.

WHO called the baby food industry to end abusive marketing practices of infant formula and governments to protect infants and families by enacting, monitoring and enforcing laws that prohibit advertising and promotion infant formulas.

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