Infant Formula Marketing in Hospitals
Q: How do
infant formula companies market their products in healthcare settings?
companies use a variety of strategies. Our primary focus in this campaign is
the distribution of industry-sponsored formula samples to new mothers in
hospitals. These samples come in “discharge bags,” which also contain an array
of formula coupons. Some brands of formula offer both “breastfeeding” and
“formula feeding” bags. However, “breastfeeding” bags also contain formula and
formula coupons! Between 66 and 72
percent of hospitals in the U.S. distribute these samples, which have been
shown to reduce the duration of breastfeeding and lessen exclusive
Formula companies also market their products in doctor’s offices
with displays, samples, logos and contests to win free formula.
Photo of Similac’s hospital discharge bags for breastfeeding (L) and formula feeding (R) moms. What’s the difference?
Photo of Similac’s hospital discharge bag for breastfeeding moms. Contains formula sample and formula coupons.
should we be concerned about infant formula marketing in healthcare settings?
for women and children’s health, consumer rights advocates, opponents of
commercialism, and those concerned about excessive corporate power all have a
stake in this issue.
aggressive marketing tactics of the infant formula industry undermine
breastfeeding, which is medically recommended. All leading
health groups agree: breastfeeding is best for babies. Exclusive breastfeeding
for the first six months is the unanimous recommendation of health
professionals, based on indisputable research findings.
The Surgeon General agrees. In her 2011 Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, the Surgeon General calls for action to “Ensure that health care clinicians do not serve as advertisers for infant formula...Given the health consequences of not breastfeeding, clinicians should not implicitly promote infant formula by providing venues for its advertisement.”
Big corporations are putting profits before the health of mothers and babies. Formula
makers — primarily Big Pharma and Big Food companies — are undermining women
and families’ access to adequate healthcare by limiting healthcare providers’
abilities to provide accurate, science-based information about breastfeeding
and infant care to their patients
and doctors’ offices shouldn’t be used as marketing vehicles for any product,
period. This is especially the case where products that are potentially
harmful to public health are concerned. Marketing products that run counter to
accepted public health guidance compromises the ethical principles that these
facilities ought to uphold.
spheres of society are too important to be overwhelmed by constant commercialism. Family
and health are two such spheres where advertising simply does not belong. We
need to protect these areas from commercial values and ensure that higher
Q: Why are
infant formula makers eager to advertise in healthcare settings?
formula companies are eager to draw in new customers. Formula makers are keen
to use healthcare settings as a primary site to market their products because:
formula in hospitals or doctors’ offices adds legitimacy to these products. If
doctors or hospitals allow this marketing, they are assumed to endorse the
safety and health claims made by formula makers — claims that are often suspect
and serve to confuse consumers.
provide an ideal venue in which to reach target customers — expectant and new
moms — at a time when they can choose a better product: breastfeeding. Formula
companies have a vested interest in less women breastfeeding. It’s the primary
way they can sell more formula.
While many hospitals are now promoting
breastfeeding, formula companies gain the opportunity to confuse breastfeeding education messages that convey the many
benefits of nursing and the risks to both mom and baby of formula feeding.
infant formula samples really affect whether mothers choose to breastfeed?
Aren’t you underestimating women’s ability to make good choices for themselves
and their babies?
convincingly shows that formula marketing — including samples — has a
significant effect on breastfeeding. Women who receive commercial formula
sample “discharge bags” in hospitals breastfeed for shorter durations and are
less likely to breastfeed exclusively. Even women who receive formula company
branded bags without formula inside
them have been shown to breastfeed less than those who do not. In combination
with the high volume of formula company advertising many women encounter while
they are pregnant, whether in email or regular mail form, television, or
online, there is no question that formula marketing has an effect on us.
Formula companies spend millions of dollars on marketing — because it works.
you trying to force women to formula feed their babies? Does your campaign
vilify women who formula feed?
A: Our campaign to stop marketing of formula in
healthcare facilities is not about individual families’ choices about how they
will feed their children. Our concern is with how and where infant formula is marketed. Breastfeeding has been
clinically shown to be best for babies and mothers’ health, and as such it makes sense for healthcare providers to recommend and support it. Most women are able
to breastfeed if they have access to appropriate support systems. However, we recognize that for some women,
breastfeeding is not the best option or is not possible. Commercial infant
formula is readily available to these women and their families, and we are not
trying to eliminate the product, nor are we passing judgment on women who
cannot or choose not to breastfeed. But, the vast majority of women (80 percent)
enter the hospital intending to
breastfeed. In order to support these mothers in fulfilling this intention, we
believe healthcare facilities must provide adequate support, which includes
removing formula marketing from their premises.
cost of formula is very high. For women who formula feed, doesn’t your campaign
seek to deny them a much needed free product?
A: As the folks at Ban the Bags point out, the samples
provided in discharge bags are not really “free.” The formula industry provides
the most expensive varieties of formula in these sample bags. Believing (understandably)
that the formula provided for them at the hospital must be best, most mothers
continue to use the same brand once they leave – and that’s exactly what
formula companies intend. When
families continue using the brand name formulas given for “free” in discharge
bags, it will cost at least $700 extra per year.
Q: Our hospital already eliminated industry-provided formula samples, but we received your letter and are on your list. Why?
A: First, congratulations! We commend you for taking this important step. Second, we apologize. In our efforts to reach as many of the hospitals that continue to permit formula marketing in their facilities as possible, we may have inadvertently included some that have already eliminated formula marketing. Please let us know and we will remove you from our list immediately.
Questions? Need more info? Contact Liz Ben-Ishai at email@example.com