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BMJ calls time on formula milk adverts

BMJ calls time on formula milk adverts

The BMJ and our sister journals will no longer carry ads for breastmilk substitutes

BMJ will stop carrying advertisements for breastmilk substitutes in its journals.  

The decision is based on extensive evidence of the worldwide harm to health caused by the aggressive promotion of formula milk products and BMJ’s desire to support the World Health Organisation (WHO) code of practice, actively promote breastfeeding, and campaign against industry influence on medical guidelines, research and practice.  

Breastmilk substitutes include all milks that may replace breastmilk in the first three years of life, including infant formula, follow-on formula, specialist products, and milks marketed for toddlers, as well as foods marketed for children under 6 months old.

BMJ will honour existing contracts, but the last adverts will appear later this year.

A recent investigation by Dr Chris van Tulleken published by The BMJ highlighted the substantial harms caused by promotion of breastmilk substitutes and the biases introduced into research and clinical practice by industry influence.

This prompted BMJ to review its policy and decide it is time to stop.

BMJ is not alone in doing this: in February the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) announced it would no longer accept funding from formula milk companies for event sponsorship and advertising.

Concern is growing that industry continues to stretch and violate the WHO’s code, which explicitly bans advertising and other forms of promotion of these products to the general public.

Monitoring of legislation is weak, and companies are rarely prosecuted for breaches, allowing the $50bn (£38bn; €44bn) a year industry to pursue customers without fear of sanction.

For example, 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.

And while the code allows the provision of “scientific and factual” information to health professionals, it is clear that this must not be promotional. Yet companies promote products to health professionals through magazines, conferences, professional journals such as The BMJ, and bodies such as the RCPCH.

Ineffective monitoring of promotion by industry also undermines efforts to increase breastfeeding rates, which remain low across the world.

“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,” says Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief of The BMJ. “But decisions on when and how to use infant formula are best informed by sources of unbiased evidence rather than commercial advertisements.”

She adds: “We believe this is the right thing to do based on our desire to support the WHO code, actively promote breastfeeding, and campaign against industry influence in this area. Instead of being part of the problem, we want to be part of the solution.”

These issues will be discussed further in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme ‘The Great Formula Milk Scandal’ at 8pm UK time on Monday 18 March 2019.

[Ends]

18/03/2019

Notes to Editors
Editorial: Calling time on formula milk adverts
Journal: The BMJ
Link: https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l1200

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