Criticizing ‘big formula milk companies’, WHO scientist calls for early crackdown to protect breastfeeding mothers

“This new study highlights huge economic and political power of large dairy companies, and serious failures of public policy preventing millions of women from breastfeeding their babies,” said Nigel Rollins, co-author of a series on the $55 billion industry and their marketing “textbooks,” published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet.

Action needed in various sectors of society to better help mothers breastfeed for as long as they want, along with efforts to end once and for all the exploitative marketing of formula milk,” he added.

650 million people do not have “maternity protection”

A series of three articles recommends a significant increase in support for breastfeeding within health and social protection systems, including ensuring sufficient paid maternity leave.

Currently around 650 million women lack adequate maternity protectionnewspapers note.

Written by a team of doctors and scientists, the series explores how the formula marketing tactics undermine breastfeeding and focus on parents, health professionals and politicians, and how feeding practices, women’s rights and health outcomes are determined by power imbalances and political and economic structures.

“Breastfeeding is not the exclusive responsibility of women and requires collective social approaches that take into account gender inequality,” the authors write. Indeed, reviews from 2016 to 2021 and country case studies show that breastfeeding practices can be rapidly improved through multi-level and multi-component interventions.

False claims by dairy lobbyists

The World Health Assembly has already addressed the perennial problem of dubious marketing practices among infant formula manufacturers. In 1981, she developed the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes following an investigative report on Nestle’s targeted marketing in low- and middle-income countries in the 1970s.

The new series says misleading marketing claims and strategic lobbying by dairy and formula manufacturers are exacerbating the problems parents face.

Claims such as the suggestion that formula milk relieves nervousness, can help with colic and prolong night’s sleep, only add to parents’ anxiety, the newspapers say.

Linda Richter of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and co-author of the series, said the formula industry is uses “bad science” suggest, with little supporting evidence, that their products are “solutions to common infant health and development problems”.

This marketing ployclearly violates the 1981 Code.which says that labels should not idealize using a formula to sell more product,” she added.

The Huge Benefits of Breastfeeding

WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding of infants for at least six months. This practice has enormous benefits for infants and young children, from reduced risk of infection to lower rates of obesity and chronic disease later in life.

However, globally only about half of newborns breastfeed during the first hour life.

© UNICEF/Gwenne Dubourtumier

A mother breastfeeds her baby at a children’s health center in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Corporations take advantage of lack of support

At a time when less than half of newborns are breastfed according to WHO recommendations, the series explains how the industry marketing takes advantage of the lack of support for this practice from government and society.

This tactic also abuses gender politics to sell its products. presenting breastfeeding propaganda as a “moralistic judgment” The authors found formula presented as a “convenient and empowering solution” for working mothers.

Politicization of breast milk

Drawing attention to the fact that the formula industry is able to influence national political decisions, the series says that companies also interfere in international regulatory processes. For example, dairy and formula milk manufacturers have created a network of unaccountable trade associations that lobby for policies to protect breastfeeding or control the quality of infant formula.

In the face of this pressure on parents, the show’s writers made several recommendations; among these was the need for greater action in the workplace, health system, governments and communities to effectively support women who choose to breastfeed. They also called for formal recognition of the contribution of women’s unpaid care work to national development.

A set of recommendations

Series co-author Rafael Pérez-Escamilla of the Yale School of Public Health highlighted other important steps.

“Given the huge benefits of breastfeeding for their families and national development, women who choose to breastfeed need much more support to help them achieve their breastfeeding goals,” he said.

“Significantly increasing the training of health workers on breastfeeding, as well as statutory paid maternity leave and other protective measures, is vital.”

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