Predatory formula marketing in California

March 17, 2022

Last week’s announcement of the WHO/UNICEF report How Marketing of Formula Milk Influences Our Decisions on Infant Feeding has prompted readers to submit examples of predatory marketing of infant formula here in California. One way to take action is to help us recognize the scale and urgency of the problem. We can’t fix problems by ignoring them, but we also can’t fix what we don’t see.

We appreciate when advocates send evidence of what predatory formula marketing looks like where you live.

Take this poster, for example. A newsletter subscriber found it hanging in a patient room of her pediatrician’s office. It could very well serve as an illustration for the WHO report, which found:

  • Formula milk marketing is pervasive, personalized, and powerful.
      1. Placing a poster like this in a patient room where the intended audience will be waiting and potentially bored guarantees it will be read.
      2. Message points target Medi-Cal members, and recipients of WIC and SNAP — using the program logos — which indicates government endorsement to individuals who are already vulnerable to not achieving their breastfeeding goals due to inequities in accessing quality lactation education, care and support. 
  • Formula milk companies use manipulative marketing tactics that exploit parents’ anxieties and aspirations.
      1. Labeling this Enfamil ad as a list of “Savings and Assistance” programs disguises the true corporate interest of the poster.
      2. Message points promise rebates and specific recommendations for infants with special needs.
  • Industry systematically targets health professionals – whose recommendations are influential – to encourage them to promote formula milk products.
    1. The seal stating “#1 physician recommended brand” with the symbol of Caduceus gives the impression of authority and endorsement.
    2. The reader is encouraged to talk with their pediatrician about Enfamil rebates.

This poster is a three-point lesson in how formula milk marketing undermines parents’ confidence in breastfeeding. None of the message points support lactation or the use of human milk. The entire focus of this poster is to get the reader to try Enfamil formula products and encourage them to provide their information so the formula company can market its products to them directly.

In response, we offer a three-point action plan here:

  1. Please sign this WHO petition to #EndExploitativeMarketing of formula milk.
  2. When you see exploitative marketing in your daily life or in the course of your work, snap a picture and email it to me or post it on social media and tag the California Breastfeeding Coalition accounts (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter).
  3. If you work in a community clinic or outpatient care setting, please read and implement Step 5: Clinic Environment of the 9 Steps to Breastfeeding Friendly: Guidelines for Community Health Centers and Outpatient Care Setting (Page 24)

Together, we can bring these harmful practices to light and advocate for initiatives that truly support lactation and human milk feeding here California and beyond.