Archive for the ‘Commercialism’ Category

Thirty-three years ago today, the World Health Organization adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (AKA the “WHO Code”) to promote breastfeeding and limit formula companies’ influence over women’s infant feeding decisions. Today, most health care facilities and the largest formula makers continue to violate the Code in the U.S. and worldwide.

To mark the anniversary of the WHO Code, more than 20 organizations and thousands of moms and citizens today are participating in a day of action led by Public Citizen, directed at the largest formula makers in the U.S. and Canada – Mead Johnson (of Enfamil), Abbott (Similac) and Nestle (Gerber Good Start). Participants are urging the companies to end the unethical practice of promoting formula in health care facilities, particularly through the distribution of commercial discharge bags with formula samples – a longstanding violation of the code.

Mothers and leaders are delivering a petition with more than 17,000 signatures to Mead Johnson at its headquarters outside of Chicago. The petition will also be presented to Abbott and Nestle. Thousands of others are taking action remotely, sending photos and messages to companies on Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. A diverse group of consumer rights, public health, women’s health, corporate accountability and breastfeeding advocacy organizations are co-sponsoring the effort. The day of action is not meant to advocate against formula use if necessary but to focus on the need to give mothers information that hasn’t been influenced by formula companies.

Most health care professionals and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months. A large body of research shows that antibodies passed from a nursing mother to her baby can help lower the occurrence of many conditions among infants including ear and respiratory infections, diarrhea, meningitis and higher risks of allergies, sudden infant death syndrome and other health risks. Mothers also benefit, with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, obesity, ovarian cancer, post-partum depression and bladder infections.

Public health experts overwhelmingly discourage hospitals and doctor’s offices from distributing formula company-sponsored gift bags and formula samples – common marketing tactics – but formula companies still find ways to market formula in facilities nationwide. Studies show such formula sample distribution undermines women’s breastfeeding success because the practice is viewed as an endorsement of formula by health care providers. In 2011, then-U.S. Surgeon General Regina A. Benjamin called for more enforcement of the WHO Code through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which requires designated hospitals to comply with the code.

Nearly half of the world’s countries have adopted legislation to implement the Code, but in the U.S. — as a result of formula industry lobbying and political influence— legislation currently remains out of reach.

But advocacy efforts have led many hospitals to end formula promotion over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) surveys, 27.4 percent of hospitals had discontinued the formula discharge bags for breastfeeding mothers in 2007, and by 2011, 45.5 percent had ended the practice. All hospitals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have voluntarily banned discharge bags, and a recent Public Citizen and Ban the Bags report found that 82 percent of the U.S. News and World Report’s top-ranked hospitals, and more than two-thirds of the highest ranked hospitals in gynecology, no longer hand out commercial formula discharge bags with samples. However, formula companies have increasingly managed to push formula samples in doctor’s offices and clinics, often without the knowledge of health care providers within those offices.

Diverse organizations are co-sponsoring the day of action with Public Citizen. They include the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (composed of more than 50 member organizations), the Best for Babes Foundation, Food and Water Watch, Corporate Accountability International, the National Women’s Health Network, Our Bodies Ourselves, La Leche League USA, HealthConnect One, the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, the California WIC Association, Power U Center for Social Change, Breastfeed Chicago, the Chicago Region Breastfeeding Task Force, the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition, the North Carolina Breastfeeding Coalition, the Coalition of Oklahoma Breastfeeding Advocates, the Pennsylvania Breastfeeding Coalition, the New York State Breastfeeding Coalition, United States Lactation Consultants Association and Women Empowered Systems Enrichment (WISE).

To learn more about the Public Citizen’s campaign to stop infant formula marketing in health care facilities, visit http://citizen.org/infant-formula.

Eva Seidelman is a Researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.


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The tide is turning in the nationwide movement to end junk food commercialism in schools. That’s thanks in part to a campaign to address childhood obesity initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama. Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a new rule which will limit unhealthy food marketing on school property during the school day, and the agency is seeking public comments on it.  The rule is part of the Local School Wellness Policy Implementation under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

On Friday, April 25, Public Citizen will submit detailed comments, and summary comments endorsed by thousands of supporters, urging the USDA to provide the strongest and broadest possible protections for students. We anticipate that our comments will be taken seriously since our School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenue report was cited directly in the proposed rule.

In 2009, junk food companies spent $149 million on marketing in our schools — with ads for sugary drinks like Coke and Pepsi accounting for 90 percent. And the marketing seems to be having some effect: In 2012, more than one- third of children and adolescents struggled with the health effects of being overweight or obese.

While the proposed rule is an important step forward, it has some potential loopholes. For example, the USDA should include a provision that urges schools to eliminate advertising of all brands that market unhealthy food, not just specific unhealthy products. Schools should also be provided the freedom to eliminate all food marketing, in order to streamline the process of monitoring brand and product compliance with the USDA’s Smart Snacks guidelines.

The USDA should also include a more expansive definition of food marketing to cover the range of tactics used by food and beverage companies.  Public Citizen and allies are encouraging the USDA to provide guidance to schools on the various types of marketing including, but not limited to posters, curricula, websites promoted for educational purposes or recommended by the school (ex. coolmathgames.com), vending machine exteriors, food or beverage cups or containers, equipment, uniforms, school supplies, in-school television (such as Channel One) and on computer screen savers and/or school-sponsored Internet sites. Additionally, branded fundraisers and corporate-sponsored programs (ex. McTeacher’s night), corporate incentive programs that provide children with free or discounted foods or beverages (ex. Pizza Hut Book It! Program), free samples and naming rights to school property.

Research suggests that commercialism in schools generally poses a threat to children’s psychological health, in addition to threats to physical health.  Children exposed to advertising suffer displacement of values and activities other than those consistent with materialism  and heightened insecurity about themselves and their place in the social world among other issues.  Commercial messaging in education compounds the overall effects of children’s exposure to ubiquitous commercialism while undermining students’ capacities to think creatively, critically and independently in school.

Public Citizen maintains that no commercial marketing or advertising should be present in the education context given its demonstrated harms to children’s physical and psychological health. But since the USDA can address only unhealthy food marketing in this proposed rule, Public Citizen will urge the agency to make its rule on food marketing as strong as possible.

We encourage citizens to endorse our summary comments to the USDA by Friday, April 25. Supporters should also sign our petition to keep commercialism out schools entirely.

Eva Seidelman is a researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting a workshop today on “native advertising” – the practice of blending ads with news and other content in such a way to make it difficult to distinguish paid and unpaid content. The agency will tackle issues concerning the popular marketing tool’s blurred lines between advertising and editorial content. Public Citizen’s President Robert Weissman, alongside industry representatives from Buzzfeed, The Wall Street Journal and others, will speak on the panel addressing best practices in transparency and disclosure.

The use of native advertising and sponsored content – content created by or on behalf of the advertiser that “runs within the editorial stream [and] integrates into the design of the publisher’s site” – has become increasingly pervasive, as companies seek online marketing tools that are not obvious attempts to sell goods and services. A marketing research firm predicted that spending on sponsored content would rise by 22 percent between 2012 and 2013, up to $1.88 billion.

Because marketers pay for, and often create, sponsored content, and the end goal is commercial, it should be clearly labeled as advertising, pursuant to FTC disclosure rules. (Marketing industry leaders claim that sponsored content is not always advertising, so it should not be labeled as such.)

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I love being the bearer of good news. Eliminating infant formula marketing in hospitals is decidedly a best practice employed by the vast majority of U.S. News and World Report’s top-ranked hospitals.  Public Citizen’s new report, Top Hospitals’ Formula for Success: No Marketing of Infant Formula, co-released by the Ban the Bags campaign shows how the vast majority of the nation’s most reputable hospitals are acting ethically and thwarting pressure from formula companies to aggressively market their harmful products.

Numerous studies show that mothers breastfeed with less frequency and for shorter durations when they receive formula company-sponsored bags with formula samples in hospitals at discharge. The bags often lead moms to believe hospitals endorse formula feeding and give up more easily on breastfeeding. Healthcare professionals overwhelming recommend that women breastfeed exclusively for the six months after birth, given its numerous health and economic benefits.

The report makes the following findings:

- Sixty-seven percent of top hospitals in gynecology (30 out of 45) reported not distributing formula company sponsored discharge bags, formula samples or other formula company promotional materials to mothers in their maternity units. Another 11 percent (5 of 45) reported limiting formula company-sponsored discharge bag and sample distribution to mothers who request them, or based on other criteria.

- Eighty-two percent (14 of 17) of U.S. News’ Honor Roll, of overall best hospitals, reported having a policy or practice against distributing formula company-sponsored discharge bags or other promotional materials.

- Eleven percent of hospitals in gynecology (5 of 45) still distribute formula company-sponsored materials, and a handful of hospitals did not respond to the survey.

The report re-affirms other data showing that hospitals have been steadily trending toward ending formula promotion over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) survey, 27.4 percent of hospitals had discontinued the formula discharge bags in 2007 and by 2011, 45.5 percent had ended the practice. The number of Baby Friendly designated hospitals, prohibiting formula marketing, is increasing. Further, all hospitals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have voluntarily banned discharge bags, while others including Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma and New York are progressively moving in that direction.

The formula companies should be the first to comply with the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and stop co-opting hospitals into advertising their products. But with profits at stake, they’re ignoring the Code. More than 16,500 people have signed Public Citizen’s petition calling on the three major formula companies – Abbott, Mead Johnson and Nestle—to stop marketing in healthcare facilities. Sign the petition and forward to friends before we deliver it to the companies next month. Visit our http://www.citizen.org/infant-formula to learn more about Public Citizen’s campaign to end formula marketing and what you can do to make change in your community.

Eva Seidelman is a Researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.

August has been designated National Breastfeeding Month to highlight the significant health and economic benefits of breastfeeding to mothers and babies. However, three mega-corporations – Nestle, Abbott and Mead Johnson – continue to spend millions inappropriately marketing infant formula including inside the hospitals we trust. Reputable authorities including the U.S. Surgeon General formally promote breastfeeding over formula feeding because studies confirm that breastfeeding, whenever possible, is the healthiest option for mothers and babies. These companies know that if they can get free formula samples into the hands of new mothers while they’re still in the hospital, moms are more likely to rely on formula, interfering with their initial intentions to breastfeed. While those samples appear to be “free,” mothers, babies and U.S. taxpayers pay large sums for the formula itself, and the associated healthcare costs, in the long-run.

I recently joined Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert and will be coordinating our campaign to keep formula marketing out of health care facilities so that mothers can make objective, informed choices about how to feed their babies. When they hand out discharge bags with free samples, hospitals are essentially signaling to mothers that they recommend or endorse formula. According to studies published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Government Accountability Office formula marketing discourages breastfeeding for this very reason. Formula marketing in hospitals is not only manipulative, it is a violation of the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

We’re on the Right Track

The good news is we’re making significant progress, hopefully as a result of our and others’ campaign efforts. In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mPINC study found that 45.5 percent of hospitals nationwide had stopped distributing formula samples. This is a notable improvement from 2009, when 34.2 percent of hospitals had ended the practice, which itself was an improvement over 2007. Certain states have made extraordinary progress. Over the past few years, nearly all hospitals in Maryland committed to stop distributing formula samples to new mothers, among other changes. In July of 2012, Massachusetts became the second state after Rhode Island to ban discharge bags in all of its hospitals thanks to the Ban the Bags campaign. Many more hospitals, including in New York City and California, have followed. These efforts likely led to the significant increase in breastfeeding initiation nationwide, which may have contributed to declines in obesity among preschoolers from 2008-2011.

But the fight is far from over. The majority of the nation’s hospitals still provide discharge bags with free samples. The majority do not exclusively breastfeed during the six months when it matters most. Over the next few months, we will be pressuring the nation’s highest-ranked hospitals to ban formula marketing. Some have, but all of these industry leaders need to set an example.

There are many challenges to exclusive breastfeeding, and new moms need much more support at home and work, and in the broader society. But one thing is clear: Corporate formula marketing in hospitals provides no support and sends the wrong message. What can you do to end it? Sign this petition to Nestle, Mead Johnson and Abbott and demand that they end formula marketing in health care facilities. Then visit our campaign page for other action ideas.

Eva Seidelman is a Researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.

 

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