Formula milk companies using “insidious marketing”
Formula milk companies are paying social media platforms and influencers to gain direct access to pregnant women and mothers at some of the most vulnerable moments in their lives, says a WHO report.
The global formula milk industry, valued at some US$55 billion, is targeting new mothers with personalised social media content that is often not recognisable as advertising, it said.
Through tools like apps, virtual support groups or ‘baby-clubs’, paid social media influencers, promotions and competitions, and advice forums or services, formula milk companies can buy or collect personal information and send personalised promotions to newly pregnant women and mothers.
The report summarises findings of new research that sampled and analysed 4 million social media posts about infant feeding published between January and June 2021 using a commercial social-listening platform. These posts reached 2.47 billion people and generated more than 12 million likes, shares or comments.
Formula milk companies post content on their social media accounts around 90 times per day, reaching 229 million users – representing three times as many people as are reached by informational posts about breastfeeding from non-commercial accounts.
This pervasive marketing is increasing purchases of breast-milk substitutes and therefore dissuading mothers from breastfeeding exclusively, as recommended by WHO.
“The promotion of commercial milk formulas should have been terminated decades ago,” said Dr Francesco Branca, Director of the WHO Nutrition and Food Safety department.