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Editorials

Calling time on formula milk adverts

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l1200 (Published 18 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l1200

Re: Calling time on formula milk adverts

It's about time. We have seen over the past generation an explosion of health issues never dealt with before. When I started in Medical school gallbladder disease was a disease of overweight women in their 40s-50s. By residency it was in the 30s-40s. Fellowship it dropped to the 20s-30s, and now in practice as a Pediatric surgeon, cholecystectomy is one of the most common operations I do after hernia and appendicitis in those under 20 years of age. In fact, many of my patients are less than 15 y.o. and it is not just limited to the ones feeding themselves: many of my developmentally delayed, disabled, tube fed kids have this problem as well. What do many of them have in common? They have been taught by their family and marketing that even babies are better off or more conveniently fed from a can, box or bottle. This has also driven an explosion of diabetes and obesity and a plethora of other conditions.

Recently I have seen well meaning pediatricians pushing towards formula whenever there is any problem with breast feeding. I have had more than one mother tell me that her baby had an allergic reaction to her breast milk. What in the world are the mothers eating or being told to eat that would cause this and push them towards formula feeding? As a medical community we have a responsibility to marginalize these supplements from being the main method of feeding for many babies. A mother needs to be given appropriate advice to prevent unnecessary conversion to fake food for our children. In fact, with banking of breast milk, formula should almost completely be eliminated. Many formula manufacturers have used questionable formulations and additions to their formulas, adding in things that babies were never meant to ingest.

Not only should we not let them advertise in our journals, we should rebut false or misleading claims and set standards for what can be in formulas and when they should or should not be used. We are just as susceptible as the common public when we see these ads regularly in our scientific journals, and it affects us subconsciously and is insidious in its effect and makes the public believe that we endorse it. Yes, it's about time.

Competing interests: No competing interests

18 March 2019
Mohammad A. Emran
Pediatric Surgeon
Driscoll Children's Hospital
Corpus Christi, Texas