Medical journal BMJ bans formula milk advertisements

Medical journal BMJ bans formula milk advertisements

Formula milk file 1
File photo of formula milk sold at a supermarket in Singapore. (Photo: Diane Leow)

LONDON: Prominent medical journal The BMJ said on Monday (Mar 18) it will no longer publish advertisements for formula milk and other breastmilk substitutes.

The BMJ - formerly known as the British Medical Journal - and its sister journals, including Gut, Frontline Gastroenterology, and Archives of Diseases in Childhood will also stop carrying these ads, it said in an editorial titled Calling time on formula milk adverts.

"After decades of advertising breastmilk substitutes to readers of The BMJ, we have decided it is time to stop," it said.

This came soon after the United Kingdom's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health announced in February it would no longer accept funding from formula milk companies.

"The code says that breastmilk substitutes cannot be advertised to parents or the wider public. But few manufacturers abide by this, despite claims of compliance on the websites of many leading brands," the journal added.

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The BMJ editorial said that concerns have resurfaced about the aggressive marketing of these products and the harmful effects on rates of breastfeeding.

"The many benefits of breastfeeding to mother and baby are well established, yet internationally breastfeeding rates remain low," it said.

"The reasons behind these low rates are multifactorial, such as limited breastfeeding support, staff training, and a lack of support for nursing mothers returning to work, but ineffective monitoring of promotion by industry also undermines efforts to increase breastfeeding."

A 2018 study by Unicef found that in high-income countries, more than one in five babies were never breastfed. 

The proportion of babies who were breastfed varies between countries, from 55 per cent in Ireland to 98 per cent in Oman and Sweden. In Singapore, the rate is 96 per cent.

While there there are many factors for lower rates of breastfeeding, lax monitoring of how formula milk companies promote their products undermines efforts to increase the practice, the BMJ said.

READ: Delayed newborn baths tied to higher breastfeeding rates

It outlined how companies continue to circumvent World Health Organisation guidelines on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and how policing of the rules is often weak.

"Concern is growing that industry continues to stretch and violate the rules," the editorial read.

It estimates that the ad ban, which comes into effect later this year, will reduce its revenues by about £300,000 (US$400 000) in 2020.

Singapore ministers have encouraged mothers here to breastfeed and highlighted the high prices of infant formula in the country.

A taskforce was set up in 2017 to look into tightening regulations on labelling and advertising, facilitating imports of more formula milk options, strengthening public education, and encouraging good practices in hospitals.

The BMJ said: "Our objective is not to drive an anti-formula campaign, as we recognise that formula milks are essential products for children with complex medical or nutritional needs and for those women for whom breastfeeding is not possible.

"But decisions on when and how to use infant formula are best informed by sources of unbiased evidence rather than commercial advertisements."

Source: CNA/hm(mi)

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