Intended for healthcare professionals


Calling time on formula milk adverts

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 18 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l1200
  1. Fiona Godlee, editor in chief1,
  2. Sophie Cook, head of scholarly comment1,
  3. Rebecca Coombes, head of news and views1,
  4. Emad El-Omar, editor in chief2,
  5. Nick Brown, editor in chief3
  1. 1The BMJ, London, UK
  2. 2Gut, London, UK
  3. 3Archives of Diseases in Childhood, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: S Cook scook{at}

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

Nearly 40 years since the introduction of an international code to regulate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, concerns have resurfaced over the aggressive promotion of these products, and the harmful effect on global rates of breastfeeding. After decades of advertising breastmilk substitutes to readers of The BMJ, we have decided it is time to stop.

In 1981, the World Health Organization and Unicef launched the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which explicitly bans advertising and other form of promotion of these products to the general public. The code aimed to rein in unethical behaviour by industry that had coincided with a general decline in breastfeeding rates.12

According to the code, 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. We use the term “formula milk” here as a shorthand for all these products.

Countries were expected to adopt the code into national law, although these hopes were never fully realised. The UK, for example, restricts marketing of infant formula to the general …

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