20 Actions in 20 Days: Formula Marketing

20 Actions in 20 Days

Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has called on the entire nation to take 20 concrete action steps from the January 2011 Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding to support the removal of barriers to breastfeeding. The United States Breastfeeding Committee is hosting a “20 Actions in 20 Days” campaign to highlight these action steps and implementation strategies.

Action 6: Ensure that the marketing of infant formula is conducted in a way that minimizes its negative impacts on exclusive breastfeeding.

In an effort to minimize the negative impacts of infant formula marketing on exclusive breastfeeding, the World Health Organization established the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Code) in 1981, developed in conjuction with infant formula manufacturers, to protect mothers from false, misleading and unethical advertising and marketing tactics promoting breast milk substitutions. The Code spells out appropriate and inappropriate marketing practices for formula marketing but is not legally enforced in the U.S.

The Surgeon General calls for better policing of the Code and its policies, which include a ban on advertising directly to cusomers and the distribution of free samples to public. Depsite the policies, many hospitals/clinicians continue to distribute the formula samples, even though studies show women receiving discharge bags containing infant formula are more likely to stop breastfeeding sooner than those who don’t receive samples. In addition, both infant formula samples and industry marketing materials present in doctors’ offices are associated with reduced breastfeeding duration and exclusivity. With sound research demonstrating the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months, health care providers and their offices should not serve as vehicles for infant formula marketing and promotion. Rather, they should institute policies preventing such product promotions to their patients and in their office space.

Jacksonville Naval Hospital, the only certified Baby-Friendly Hospital in Northeast Florida, is also the only area hospital that follows the Code’s guidelines. Shands Jacksonville recently took a stand against infant formula marketing by signing on to Ban the Bags, a national movement to stop formula company marketing materials in hospitals, and refusing to distribute formula-branded baby bags to new mothers. Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine is working to implement exclusive breastfeeding policies as part of an effort to attain the Baby-Friendly Hospital certification. No other area hospitals currently have policies preventnig infant formula marketing materials.

To learn how to keep infant marketing out of your hospital or office, or to learn more about the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, visit the Florida Breastfeeding Coalition or contact the Northeast Florida Breastfeeding Collaborative.