The study found that companies pay social media platforms and influencers to have direct access to pregnant women and mothers at some of the most vulnerable times in their lives, through personalized content that is often not recognizable as advertising.
Methods used include apps, virtual support groups or “baby clubs”, promotions and contests, and forums or counseling services.
To increase the sales
This pervasive marketing increases purchases of breastmilk substitutes, WHO said, thus dissuading mothers from exclusively breastfeeding, as recommended by the UN agency.
“The promotion of commercial milk formulas should have been stopped decades ago,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety at WHO.
“The fact that formula companies are now using even more powerful and insidious marketing techniques to increase sales is inexcusable and must be stopped.”
90 posts per day
The report, titled Reach and Impact of Digital Marketing Strategies for Promoting Breastmilk Substitutes, is the second in a series and follows a initial study, published in February, on the influence of infant formula marketing on our decisions about infant feeding.
It summarizes the results of new research that sampled and analyzed four million social media posts about infant feeding published between January and June 2021 using a commercial social listening platform.
The posts reached nearly 2.5 billion people and generated more than 12 million likes, shares or comments.
Formula companies post content to their social media accounts about 90 times a day, reaching 229 million users, three times the number of people reached by breastfeeding information posts, according to the study. from non-commercial accounts.
deceitful and undermining
The authors also compiled evidence from social listening research on online public communications and individual national research reports monitoring promotions of breastmilk substitutes.
They were also inspired by a recent international study on the experiences of mothers and healthcare professionals with formula marketing.
Studies have shown how misleading marketing reinforces myths about breastfeeding and breastmilk and undermines women’s confidence in their ability to breastfeed successfully.
Stop all advertising
The WHO has called on the baby food industry to end the abusive marketing of infant formulaand the governments of protect children and families enacting, monitoring and enforcing laws to end all advertising or other promotion of infant formula.
The proliferation of global digital infant formula marketing flagrantly violates a historic international code on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, adopted 40 years ago, the agency said.
The agreement is designed to protect the general public and mothers from aggressive baby food industry marketing practices that negatively impact breastfeeding practices.
The WHO said the fact that these forms of digital marketing can escape the scrutiny of national oversight and health authorities shows that new approaches to regulation and code enforcement are needed.
Despite strong evidence that exclusive and continued breastfeeding is a key determinant of improved health across the lifespan of children, women and communities, too few children are breastfed as recommended.
The WHO has warned that the proportion could drop further if current infant formula marketing strategies continue.