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Ekeomah Atuonwu

Formula milk businesses are paying influencers and social media platforms to gain direct access to pregnant women and moms at some of their most vulnerable times.

The $55 billion global formula milk industry is targeting new mothers with directed social media content that is not always obvious as advertising.

Globally, digital technologies are rapidly being utilized to sell food goods. Although the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes states that no advertising or other kind of promotion of breast-milk substitutes to the general public is permitted, the Code does not specifically address many of the digital marketing tactics.

A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report has outlined the digital marketing techniques designed to influence the decisions new families make on how to feed their babies.

Through tools like mobile 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 personalized promotions to new pregnant women and mothers.


The article highlights the findings of a new study that used a commercial social listening platform to sample and analyze 4 million social media posts about newborn feeding published between January and June 2021. More than 12 million likes, shares, and comments were produced as a result of these posts, which reached 2.47 billion individuals.

Formula milk firms post content on their social media accounts 90 times each day, reaching 229 million people, which is three times the number of individuals reached by non-commercial accounts posting information about nursing.

This extensive marketing is increasing purchases of breast-milk substitutes, dissuading mothers from exclusively nursing as recommended by the World Health Organization.

“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.

“The fact that formula milk companies are now employing even more powerful and insidious marketing techniques to drive up their sales is inexcusable and must be stopped.”

Despite clear evidence that exclusive and continued breastfeeding are key determinants of improved lifelong health for children, women and communities, far too few children are breastfed as recommended.

WHO has urged nations to protect new children and families by implementing, monitoring, and enforcing legislation prohibiting any advertising or other promotion of formula milk products.

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Ekeomah Atuonwu

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