Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

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.

 

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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File this promotional e-mail I received today from Spirit Airlines under “our-marketing-department-is-just-a-little-out-of-touch.” The promotion encourages consumers to  “check out the oil on our beaches.” Wow. Meanwhile, oil continues to pour into the Gulf.  Maybe the geniuses at Spirit should have boned up on some of the sad facts about this spill at BeyondBP.org.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, was on public radio’s Marketplace this morning talking about proposed restrictions on pharmaceutical advertising. A proposal by the Food and Drug Administration would require health disclaimers in ads from pharma companies to be presented in clear language with no distracting visuals. That’s not the case now because ads are designed to distract viewers from the disclaimer about risks, Wolfe said :

And lots of studies have shown that people remember more about the benefits than they do about the risk.

To listen to the Marketplace report, click here.

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