Infant Formula Makers Use Unethical Marketing Practices

Recent news headlines surrounding safety issues with certain baby formulas have alarmed many parents who have placed their trust in these brands to provide for their baby’s nutrition needs. Was the trust in these companies earned, or was it slick marketing practices that gave parents false confidence in their products?

Over the last two decades, baby formula sales have almost doubled, while breastfeeding has only marginally increased. In response to the formula shortage, exacerbated by the increased reliance on formula milk and plant shutdowns due to contaminations, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report addressing the world’s overreliance on baby formula. They found it results from “aggressive and misleading marketing” by the companies, such as making false and incomplete scientific claims that formula is close to, equivalent or better than breast milk, and by using gifts, trips, and other inducements to entice health workers to promote their formulas to new mothers.

Misleading marketing practices by formula makers have been around since the 1950s. Baby formula manufacturers battled for increased market share by attempting to reach new mothers through hospitals and pediatricians. By supplying hospitals with their formula, parents were introduced to it by a healthcare provider, leading to an intended assumption that it was “medically-approved“, healthy, and maybe even preferable to breastmilk. Mothers went home from the hospital with “swag bags” supplied by the companies that were filled with coupons and formula samples.

The strategy worked: research shows that 90 percent of women stayed with the brand of formula the hospital provided them. Manufacturers knew that when new moms are given formula by their doctor or the hospital staff, it creates product credibility and the impression that the doctor endorses it.

The formula makers’ predatory marketing led to parents placing their trust in these products and in believing that formula is equal to, or in some cases, superior to breast milk for their baby’s health. Despite the abundance of scientific research and the fact that all major medical organizations – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization – agree that breastmilk, not formula, is the best and healthiest nutrition for most infants, formula makers engaged in marketing schemes that placed profits over infant health. They successfully led parents to place their trust in their products by fostering a belief that formula was as good as or better than breast milk for their baby’s health. More troubling is that the formula makers have even gone as far as to conceal the dangers that some of their formulas pose to infants, particularly premature babies.

Health organizations have undertaken steps to combat the exploitive and misleading marketing tactics of formula makers by pushing for governments to regulate formula marketing and advising pediatricians to not serve as advertisers for infant formula.

Parents and caregivers should never rely on marketing when making a decision about their baby’s medical and nutritional needs. Such decisions should be informed by talking with your baby’s pediatrician.

If you believe your baby was harmed by contaminated formula, contact Charles Boyk Law Offices. Our attorneys may be able to help you.

Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC