‘Aggressive’ marketing of formula milk flouts code, warns WHO as it urges curbs

Countries should clamp down on the “aggressive” and “unethical” marketing of formula milk for babies, including forcing companies to sell products in plain packaging, a report by the World Health Organization and Unicef has said.

In research, commissioned 41 years after the global health community drew up guidelines aimed at regulating the industry, experts found that the marketing of formula had “no limits” and had become more “unregulated and invasive” in the digital age.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said it was clear the marketing was “unacceptably pervasive, misleading and aggressive”. He said: “Regulations on exploitative marketing must be urgently adopted and enforced to protect children’s health.”

One measure the report suggests that governments explore is the standardised, plain packaging of formula products, a controversial proposal that will draw comparisons with tobacco marketing regulations in place in the UK since 2017.

Dr Nigel Rollins, a paediatrician in the WHO’s department of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, said that while nobody was equating formula milk with cigarettes, the way both products were marketed were “not dissimilar”.

“The commonalities are there,” he said. “But instead of packaging being an opportunity for commercial marketing, it should be a place where public health can actually give accurate information to women. And if that type of information can be given clearly and honestly, then I think that’s a good thing.”

In the report, Tedros and Henrietta Fore, Unicef’s executive director until last month, said that while formula milk “has its place for women and parents who are not able or do not want to breastfeed”, babies’ best possible source of nutrition was their mother’s milk.

The message carries particular weight in developing countries where parents often do not have easy access to clean water or sufficient supplies of formula powder, which…

Read full story at the guardian.com

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