Leading milk formula companies spend £36 on marketing for every baby born worldwide – violating rules and threatening lives

New Save the Children report reveals six companies spend the equivalent of £36 on marketing for each baby born worldwide.
Don't push it report

- New Save the Children analysis reveals six companies spend the equivalent of £36 on marketing for each baby born worldwide - amounting to £5 billion every year

- Marketing activities of Nestlé, Danone, RB (Mead Johnson), Abbott, Kraft Heinz and FrieslandCampina routinely violate a World Health Organisation code set up to stop aggressive marketing to new mums

- Parents bombarded with advertisements including false health claims and social media promotions, while doctors report receiving gifts and incentives to promote infant formula
Report documents five-fold growth in formula industry over just two decades - three times faster than global economy - with more babies fed formula than ever before

- Breast milk offers all the antibodies a baby needs. 823,000 child deaths could be prevented each year by near universal breastfeeding, yet marketing spend by just six breast milk substitute companies dwarfs public health budgets to promote breastfeeding

- Charity ranks the six companies based on Code compliance and calls on global manufacturers, investors and governments to commit to putting an end to dangerous marketing practices
Save the Children today reveals the scale of aggressive marketing for breast-milk substitutes, much of which violates World Health Organisation (WHO) code.

This is helping to drive unprecedented growth in sales of infant formula across the world. As a result, millions of families - many in low-income settings - have fed their babies formula they don’t need and very often can’t afford, endangering countless children’s lives.

The charity’s report, Don’t push it, shows that between them six infant formula companies - Nestlé, Danone, RB (Mead Johnson), Abbott, FrieslandCampina and Kraft Heinz - spend an estimated £5 billion on marketing per year . That’s the equivalent of over £36 for every single baby born worldwide.

The WHO code, established in the aftermath of a Nestlé boycott of the 1970s, states there should be ‘no promotion to the public’ of breast milk substitutes because of incontrovertible evidence that breastfeeding provides children with the best start in life.

Breast milk offers all the antibodies a baby needs to ward off lethal diseases like pneumonia, which kills more children under five than any other disease.

An estimated 823,000 child deaths would be prevented each year if almost all babies were breastfed . That’s nearly one in seven of all deaths of children under the age of five, globally. Babies who are not breastfed are about nine times more likely to die from pneumonia than those who are.

Kevin Watkins, Save the Children UK CEO, said: “Today’s report uncovers a ‘battle for baby bucks’ in which companies are deliberately using aggressive marketing to create a fog of uncertainty around breastfeeding.

“This a first in the history of human evolution. Never before has the way babies and small children are nourished changed so dramatically and on such a scale.

“It’s a matter of life and death – there is little doubt many babies in low and middle income settings are dying as a result. It’s time the breast-milk substitute industry put babies before profit.

“With the right commitment these companies can show the leadership needed to change the industry. We are hopeful this will be the wake-up call they need to do so.”
Sales are booming and more babies and small children are being fed infant formula than ever before. A global market worth less than £11 billion in 1998 reached sales of £32 billion in 2014 and is set to reach £50 billion by 2019 . That’s a five-fold increase in little more than two decades. It’s three times faster than the growth of the global economy, and far outpaces the increase in the number of babies in the world .

Today’s report does not deny that milk formula has a positive role to play in the right conditions. There is a recognised medical need for some infants to be formula-fed, and for several reasons it is a choice made by parents around the world. Instead, it details clear evidence that these six formula companies are running powerful marketing campaigns that counter established guidelines, often by establishing a supposed ‘equivalence’ between breast milk and milk formula. This results in mothers without the right information limiting or abandoning breastfeeding altogether.

Much of the promotional activity taking place violates the World Health Organisation’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. This Code sets out measures for companies to follow, including ‘no promotion to the public’, ‘no gifts to mothers or health workers’ and ‘no free samples’.
All six manufacturers have also become increasingly sophisticated in their use of social media. Facebook, Instagram and other digital channels have enabled companies to engage in the behavioural targeting of formula products in ways that were never before possible - and are ever-harder to monitor and regulate.

Save the Children’s report scores the six companies on their compliance to the Code using analysis from the Access to Nutrition Index .

The rankings are:
1)    Nestlé – 40%
2)    Danone – 36%
3)    FrieslandCampina – 24%
4)    Kraft Heinz – 22%
5)    Abbott – 15%
6)    RB (Mead Johnson) – 13%

RB appear here following their recent acquisition of Mead Johnson.
The world would also reap huge benefits from investment in breastfeeding. Such are the benefits to health and development – which in turn bolster education, participation in the workforce and earnings over a lifetime – that for each dollar invested in breastfeeding, $35 is generated in economic returns .

Yet these six companies spend on marketing 30 times the amount the WHO says is needed to raise breastfeeding rates enough to save 520,000 lives by 2025 .

The largest global fund management firms have more than $110 billion invested in companies that market milk formula . Almost all big fund managers and pension funds have signed up to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investing. The marketing of milk formula by companies they have invested in contradicts these pledges.

Save the Children is calling for:
  • The chief executives of these companies publicly and unequivocally to commit to upholding the Code and agree to meet targets set to achieve full compliance.
  • Investors to recognise that aggressive marketing harms families, infants and young children globally and to use their influence to encourage companies to comply with the Code.
  • Governments to incorporate the Code and subsequent resolutions fully into their laws and regulations and should invest in independent monitoring and effective enforcement.