Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

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.


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.

Imagine your doctor telling you to reduce your sugar consumption, but handing out boxes of Frosted Flakes as you leave her office. Or, picture yourself getting a sample pack of potato chips as you check out of the cardiac ward of the hospital. Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

It’s not a far cry from what is happening in over two thirds of hospitals across the United States that permit the distribution of infant formula company-provided samples to new mothers after they give birth. No, infant formula isn’t sugary cereal or potato chips, but it is a vastly inferior product to breastmilk, which is why all major healthcare provider organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of babies’ lives.Flickr photo by Jean et Melo

Yet, even though the consensus about the risks of not breastfeeding for both babies and mothers’ health couldn’t be stronger, hospitals continue to market infant formula on behalf of the mega-corporations that manufacture it – giant pharmaceutical and food companies that are eager to gain the legitimacy for their product that providing samples in a healthcare facility undoubtedly confers. And these corporations are doing it because it works: research clearly shows that mothers who receive infant formula samples breastfeed for shorter durations and are less likely to breastfeed exclusively.

Today Public Citizen launched a new national campaign to end infant formula marketing in healthcare facilities. We’ve sent letters cosigned by over 100 organizations to hospitals across the country calling on them to end this practice immediately. And we aren’t letting the infant formula companies off the hook either: today we are launching a petition demanding that the three major formula makers – Abbott, Mead Johnson, and Nestle – stop using healthcare facilities as venues to market their products.

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Breakfast cereals equivalent in nutritional value to Twinkies are heavily marketed to children using cartoon mascots and online “advergames.” Schools display advertisements for everything from fast food to the U.S. Army on every available surface, from lockers to flat-screen televisions in cafeterias to report cards. Corporations hire student “brand ambassadors” on college campuses to subtly push their product on classmates and friends. Public art galleries, subway stops, and roadways are named for the highest corporate bidder. Historic bridges and parks are draped with advertisements. Infant formula makers market their products in doctors’ offices and hospitals.Photo by Christopher Chan, Flickr

These examples are all evidence of the rapidly growing space that commercial culture has come to occupy within our society. As large a space as they may already inhabit in our lives, corporations are seeking still more facets of our society that can be put up “for sale,” never mind the higher values that get trampled in the process – values like family, community, environmental integrity, and democracy. That’s why Commercial Alert, a project of Public Citizen, has no shortage of work to do.

Ralph Nader and Gary Ruskin founded Commercial Alert in 1998, seeking to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere. Since then, Commercial Alert has fought to lay down boundaries that preserve crucial spaces in our culture as commercial-free. Commercial Alert has stood up for children’s rights to be free of commercialism in schools, parks, libraries, and other public spaces. We’ve demanded that government be a vehicle for democracy, not commercial advertising, fighting back against plans to advertise on government vehicles, history-laden bridges and buildings, and in cultural institutions. We’ve decried the number one public health disaster of our times – marketing-related diseases, including obesity, smoking-related illnesses, diabetes, and many more.

Despite successes along the way, the fight is far from over. As those intent on putting everything and everyone up for sale wage their war on our culture, Commercial Alert continues to resist the spread of commercial culture – now as an important part of Public Citizen. We’re confident that supporters of Public Citizen will find that Commercial Alert’s upcoming campaigns address crucial issues that are important to them – issues that fit well with Public Citizen’s historic concerns about unchecked corporate power and consumer protection. And supporters of Commercial Alert who have been eagerly awaiting our return to action after a brief hiatus will be excited to see the powerful connections between Public Citizen’s work and Commercial Alert’s goals, connections that will enable us to combat excessive commercial culture even more effectively.

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Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project monitors the spread of commercial culture, fighting back against its expansion into evermore spheres of our lives. As we track tales of governors selling naming rights to highways and bridges and online games pushing junk food on children, a perennial story we encounter is that of increasing commercialism in our public schools. Not a week goes by without at least a handful of stories of school districts selling students short by allowing (or considering allowing) advertising on their campuses, whether on lockers, school buses, cafeteria trays and menus, sports fields, or right in the classroom.

With massive state budget cuts, school districts are facing tough times – there’s no doubt about it. So when they claim that allowing school advertising will help them manage their budget shortfalls, many parents and community members believe that, distasteful as advertising to kids may be, such measures might just be worth it. But is it? Our just-released report, School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenues, debunks these claims, highlighting the miniscule revenue that these programs actually bring in.

How much money are school districts bringing in? Houston Independent School District (HISD), the seventh-largest in the country, has a total budget of $1.58 billion for 2011-2012. In 2010-2011, HISD raised only $62,250 from a combination of signage, scoreboards and school bus advertising. That’s less than 0.01 percent of its budget – and a far cry from the $100 million in cuts the district faced last year.  Also in Houston, Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District, the eleventh-largest district in the country, raised only 0.03 percent of its annual budget through in-school advertising. And in Florida, Orange County Public Schools has allowed advertising from Pizza Hut, the U.S. Army, Buffalo Wild Wings and other, raising just 0.02 percent of its annual operating budget.

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