The Impact of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes on WHO-Recommended Breastfeeding Practices

Food Nutr Bull. 2015 Dec;36(4):373-86. doi: 10.1177/0379572115602174. Epub 2015 Aug 27.


Background: Suboptimal breastfeeding results in 800 000 child deaths annually. There are multiple causes of suboptimal breastfeeding, including marketing of breast-milk substitutes.

Objectives: To describe sales and marketing of breast-milk substitutes and their influence on World Health Organization-recommended breastfeeding behaviors, focusing on low- and middle-income countries.

Methods: Literature review.

Results: Global sales of breast-milk substitutes reached US$40 billion in 2013. Growth in sales exceeds 10% annually in many low- and middle-income countries, while it is close to stagnant in high-income countries. Breast-milk substitutes are marketed directly to consumers via mass media and print advertisements and indirectly via incentives, free supplies, and promotions to and through health workers and facilities, retailers, and policy makers. Internet marketing via company web sites and social media is on the rise. Marketing influences social norms by making formula use seem to be extensive, modern, and comparable to or better than breast milk. Clear evidence of a negative impact is found when breast-milk substitutes are provided for free in maternity facilities and when they are promoted by health workers and in the media. Influences through other channels are plausible, but rigorous studies are lacking. It was not possible with the data available to quantify the impact of marketing relative to other factors on suboptimal breastfeeding behaviors. Marketing remains widespread even in countries that have adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes to restrict such activities.

Conclusion: Adoption of stricter regulatory frameworks coupled with independent, quantitative monitoring and compliance enforcement are needed to counter the impacts of formula marketing globally.

Keywords: Southeast Asia; breastfeeding; infant and young child feeding (IYCF); nutrition policy; sub-Saharan Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding / methods*
  • Direct-to-Consumer Advertising* / methods
  • Health Impact Assessment
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mass Media
  • Milk Substitutes*
  • Milk, Human*
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Poverty
  • World Health Organization*