Physicians, formula companies, and advertising. A historical perspective

Am J Dis Child. 1991 Mar;145(3):282-6. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.1991.02160030050019.


The recent advent of new advertising campaigns for infant formulas aimed at the general public via television commercials, newspapers, free formula coupons, and lay periodicals has disrupted a comfortable symbiotic relationship between infant food manufacturers and the medical profession that has endured for more than 50 years. In the late 19th century, physicians were concerned about the advertising claims of these products and generally felt that indications and directions for their use should be the province of the physician. Between 1929 and 1932, the American Medical Association, through its Committee on Foods and "Seal of Acceptance," essentially required the entire formula industry to advertise only to the medical profession. Since 1932, the US formula industry has developed into a $1.6 billion market. In 1988, Nestlé (absent from the US infant formula industry since the 1940s) acquired the Carnation Company and launched an advertising campaign to the general public for its formula products. Bristol Myers/Mead Johnson, in cooperation with Gerber Products Company, quickly followed suit. These actions threaten to once again remove the realm of infant feeding from the exclusive supervision of the medical profession. The new multimedia public advertising campaigns may increase the cost of infant formula to the general public and have a negative impact on the incidence of breast-feeding. In addition, formula advertising campaigns will likely increase the danger of advertising hyperbole and affect the level of financial support by formula companies for scientific meetings, medical research, education, and social events at medical meetings.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Advertising / history*
  • American Medical Association / history
  • Breast Feeding
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Food / economics
  • Infant Food / history*
  • Pediatrics
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Societies, Medical / history
  • United States