The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have called on the baby food industry to end exploitative formula milk marketing.
The duo made the call in a statement issued on Monday, March 14, 2022, after carrying out a survey in eight countries to determine how marketing of formula milk influenced parents, pregnant women and health workers’ decision on infant feeding.
TheFact Nigeria gathered that the gains made in the campaign for exclusive breastfeeding was fast diminishing as current harsh economic realities force mothers to take jobs that make it impossible for them to exclusively breastfeed their babies for 6 months.
According to the statement, the report details exploitative practices employed by the $55 billion formula industry, compromising child nutrition and violating international commitments
It noted that, 51% of parents and pregnant women surveyed for the global report said they have been targeted with marketing from formula milk companies, much of which was in breach of international standards on infant feeding practices.
Similarly, the study found out that industry marketing techniques used by the companies included unregulated and invasive online targeting; sponsored advice networks and helplines; promotions and free gifts; and practices to influence training and recommendations among health workers.
WHO, UNICEF said the messages that parents and health workers receive are often misleading, scientifically unsubstantiated, and violate the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes; a landmark public health agreement passed by the World Health Assembly in 1981 to protect mothers from aggressive marketing practices by the baby food industry.
Reacting to the report, WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “This report shows very clearly that formula milk marketing remains unacceptably pervasive, misleading and aggressive.
“Regulations on exploitative marketing must be urgently adopted and enforced to protect children’s health”, he said.
Also calling for enforcement of stricter regulation on the baby food industry, UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell said: “False and misleading messages about formula feeding are a substantial barrier to breastfeeding, which we know is best for babies and mothers.
“We need robust policies, legislation and investments in breastfeeding to ensure that women are protected from unethical marketing practices — and have access to the information and support they need to raise their families”, she said.
The statement read in part: “Breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond, offers a powerful line of defense against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity.
“Breastfeeding also acts as babies’ first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses. It also reduces women’s future risk of diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer. Yet, in Nigeria, only 29 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed, according to the 2018 National Demographic and Health Survey. The Nigerian Government aims to increase the exclusive breastfeeding rate to 65 percent by 2025.
“To address these challenges, WHO, UNICEF and partners are calling on governments, health workers, and the baby food industry to end exploitative formula milk marketing and fully implement and abide by the Code requirements. This includes:
“Passing, monitoring and enforcing laws to prevent the promotion of formula milk, in line with the International Code, including prohibiting nutrition and health claims made by the formula milk industry.
“Investing in policies and programmes to support breastfeeding, including adequate paid parental leave in line with international standards, and ensuring high quality breastfeeding support.
“Requesting industry to publicly commit to full compliance with the Code and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions globally.
“Banning health workers from accepting sponsorship from companies that market foods for infants and young children for scholarships, awards, grants, meetings, or events”.
The eight countries where the survey was carried were Bangladesh, China, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Viet Nam.