“Infant formula manufacturers pay social media platforms and influencers to get direct access to pregnant women and mothers at times in their lives when they are most vulnerable,” the WHO said in a statement.
New WHO report, Reach and impact of digital marketing for the promotion of breastmilk substitutes, sheds light on digital marketing techniques set to influence new families’ decisions about feeding their babies .
Purchasing and Collecting Personal Information
Through tools such as apps, virtual support groups or “baby clubs”, paid social media influencers, promotions, contests and forums or consulting services, formula manufacturers for infants can purchase or collect personal information and send personalized promotions to pregnant women and mothers of newborns.
Infant formula manufacturers post content to their social media accounts about 90 times a day and reach 229 million users.
Four million newborn 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 more than 12 million likes, shares or comments.
Infant formula manufacturers 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 information posts on social media platforms. non-commercial accounts, reports the WHO.
Double harmful effect of deceptive marketing
This pervasive marketing increases sales of breastmilk substitutes and at the same time deters mothers from exclusive breastfeeding, as recommended by the WHO.
According to the Director of the WHO Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, Dr Francesco Branca, an end should have been put to the promotion of commercial infant formula 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 needs to stop,” Dr. Branca said.
The report draws on evidence from public communications watches posted on social media and country reports analyzing promotions for breast-milk substitutes, as well as a recent multi-country study of mothers and professionals to understand their feelings about the marketing of infant formula.
WHO laments that “deceptive marketing reinforces misconceptions about breastfeeding and breastmilk, and undermines women’s confidence in their ability to meet the nutritional needs of their newborns through breastfeeding”.
Undermining the Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes
The proliferation of global digital marketing of infant formula is in clear contravention of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (the “Code”), adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981. This landmark public health agreement aims to to protect populations and mothers against aggressive marketing practices by the infant food industry, which undermine breastfeeding practices.
“Despite clear data demonstrating that exclusive and continued breastfeeding is a key factor in improving the health of children, women and populations throughout life, too few children are breastfed, as the recommend the recommendations”, underlines the WHO.
“If current infant formula marketing strategies continue, the share of children breastfed could decline further, boosting corporate profits,” the global health agency warned.
The WHO calls for the adoption of new provisions to strengthen the implementation of the “Code”.
“The fact that these forms of digital marketing can escape the vigilance of national monitoring and health authorities illustrates the need for new approaches to regulating the implementation of the Code and enforcing its provisions” , said the UN agency, adding that currently “national legislation can be circumvented by marketing activities from cross-border countries”.
WHO has called on the infant food industry to end abusive infant formula marketing practices, and on governments to protect newborns and families through enactment, monitoring and enforcement. laws prohibiting the advertising and promotion of infant formula.