Formula Makers Undermine Breastfeeding on Social Media: WHO

ItAccording to new research by the World Health Organization, nfant-formula manufacturers use influencers and social media to market to women, undermining attempts to increase breastfeeding rates.

According to the WHO, companies often use personal content via apps, paid influencers, and advice forums in order reach customers.

The results build on the WHO’s largest ever study on infant formula marketing, and come at a challenging time for infant-formula makers. As a result of the pandemic, birth rates have fallen and competition has intensified in China’s key markets. Nestle SA has tried to revitalize the market. Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc, however, started an exit from China of its baby nutrition business.

This report examined 4,000,000 posts on social media about infant nutrition published between June 2013 and June 2014. According to the report almost 2.5 billion people were reached by these posts. It found that firms selling formula uploaded content around 90 times per day, reaching 229 million users — three times as many people as are reached by informational posts about breastfeeding from non-commercial accounts.

“This pervasive marketing is increasing purchases of breast-milk substitutes and therefore dissuading mothers from breastfeeding exclusively,” the report said.

The marketing practices of infant-formula companies vary widely, Marie Chantal Messier, Nestle’s head of food and industry affairs, said following the publication of WHO’s initial report in February. The Swiss company doesn’t promote formula for babies up to 12 months in 163 countries, and will voluntarily stop promoting formula for infants up to six months around the globe by the end of the year, she said.

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

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