Adverts for baby formula to be dropped because of a ‘worldwide harm to health’

Adverts for baby formula to be dropped because of a ‘worldwide harm to health’
The ban on breast milk substitute ads include all milks that may replace breast milk in the first three years of life (Photo: Shutterstock)

Adverts for formula milk are to be dropped by The British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The BMJ, one of the world’s oldest general medical journals, has announced that it will no longer carry ads for breast milk substitutes.

Staff say the decision was based on “extensive evidence” of the worldwide harm to health caused by the “aggressive promotion” of formula milk products by the £38 billion a year industry.

They said the respected publication wants to support the World Health Organisation (WHO) code of practice, actively promote breastfeeding, and campaign against industry influence on medical guidelines, research and practice.

Last adverts will appear later this year

The ban on breast milk substitute ads include all milks that may replace breast milk 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 six months old.

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

‘Substantial harms’ caused by promotion of breast milk substitutes

A recent investigation by Dr Chris van Tulleken, published by The BMJ, highlighted the “substantial harms” caused by promotion of breast milk substitutes and the biases introduced into research and clinical practice by industry influence. The probe prompted The BMJ to review its policy.

The British Medical Journal says its intention is 'not to drive an anti-formula campaign' (Photo: Shutterstock)
The British Medical Journal says its intention is ‘not to drive an anti-formula campaign’ (Photo: Shutterstock)

Last month 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.

The WHO’s code explicitly bans advertising and other forms of promotion of substitute breast milk products to the general public.

The BMJ says that ineffective monitoring of promotion by businesses also “undermines” efforts to increase breastfeeding rates around the world.

‘Not driving an anti-formula campaign’

Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief of The BMJ, said, “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.

“But decisions on when and how to use infant formula are best informed by sources of unbiased evidence rather than commercial advertisements.”

She added, “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.”

The issues are due to be discussed on Channel 4 Dispatches programme, The Great Formula Milk Scandal, at 8pm tonight (Monday 18 March)