Formula makers undermine breastfeeding on social media: WHO

Infant formula manufacturers are using social media and influencers to target women and drive sales, undermining efforts to increase breastfeeding rates, according to a new study from the World Health Organization.

Companies are using personalized content through apps, paid influencers and advisory forums to reach consumers, the WHO report said, adding that these are often not recognizable as advertising.

The results build on WHO’s largest ever survey of infant formula marketing and come at a challenging time for infant formula makers. The pandemic has resulted in lower birth rates, just as competition from local rivals has intensified in key market China. Nestle SA, for example, has been trying to revive the company in that market, while Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc has started selling its baby food business after leaving China last year.

The report analyzed 4 million social media posts about baby food published in the six months to June last year. According to the report, the messages reached nearly 2.5 billion people. It found that companies selling formulas uploaded content about 90 times a day, reaching 229 million users — three times as many people as are reached by breastfeeding informational posts from non-commercial accounts.

A live streamer promotes infant formula on a live-streaming basis during Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s annual online shopping event on Nov. 11. in Hangzhou, China, on Wednesday, November 11, 2020.

Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“This ubiquitous marketing increases the purchase of breast milk substitutes and therefore discourages mothers from breastfeeding exclusively,” the report said.

The marketing practices of infant formula companies vary widely, Marie Chantal Messier, chief of food and industry affairs at Nestle, said after publishing the WHO’s first report in February. The Swiss company does not promote formula for babies up to 12 months in 163 countries and will voluntarily stop promoting formula for babies up to six months around the world by the end of the year, she said.

“Danone encourages breastfeeding for mothers and even encourages the recommendations of the WHO, as one of the first companies to also stop advertising products from 0 to six months,” said CEO Antoine de Saint-Affrique at the AGM earlier this week. from the company. He said Danone is “extremely responsible in his approach”.

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