Aussie firms modified infant nutrition marketing to 'minimize' WHO Code impact, says study

By Mark ASTLEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Advertising, Marketing, Infant formula

AUS firms modified infant food marketing to 'minimize' Code impact
The Australian infant nutrition sector has modified its marketing practices to minimize the sales and profit impact of the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, an Australian advertising study has found.

The review examined whether the introduction of the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formulas (MAIF) Agreement affected the advertising strategies employed to market breast-milk substitutes (BMS), such as infant, follow-on and growing-up formula, in the country.

The MAIF Agreement was drawn up in 1992 in response to Australia becoming a signatory of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. It prohibits the marketing of infant nutrition products for children up to the age of 12 months by manufacturers and importers.

However, no marketing restrictions on toddler formula (AKA growing-up milk), which is developed for children between 12 and 36 months, exist under the MAIF Agreement.

“Companies have adopted strategies to minimize the effects of the Code on sales and profit in Australia, including increasing toddler formula and food advertisements, increasing brand promotion to the public, and complying with more limited voluntary regulatory arrangements,”​ said the study.

“Comprehensive regulation is urgently required to address changed marketing practices if it is to protect breastfeeding in Australia.”

Strategies to minimize sales, profit impact

Researchers from the Australian National University pored over more than 60-years’ worth of print advertisements for breast-milk substitutes in two magazines - Australian Women’s Weekly magazine and the Medical Journal of Australia

After sampling copies of the magazines from between 1950 and 2010, the researchers established that advertising for breast-milk substitute products in both magazines peaked and began declining before the introduction of the International Code on the Marketing of Breast-milk Substitute in 1981.

They also discovered that while there was almost no infant formula marketing in Australian Women’s Weekly after 1979, advertisements for toddler formula and general brand promotion have steadily increased since 1992.

“The level and nature of BMS advertising to mothers and health professionals began changing before the WHO Code 1981 following public concern about the issue,”​ said the study, which was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

“Subsequently, companies have adopted strategies to minimize the effects of the Code on sales and profit, including toddler formula and food advertising and brand promotion to the public, including online marketing. This disputes the relevance of the current MAIF Agreement to changing marketplace practices and its effectiveness in protecting and supporting breastfeeding.”​ 

“Appropriate marketing and distribution”

The aim of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes is to “contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants, by the protection and promotion of breast-feeding, and by ensuring the proper use of breast-milk substitutes, when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through appropriate marketing and distribution.”

DairyReporter.com reported last week that less than one in five WHO Member States have passed legislation reflecting the recommendations of the Code.

The WHO study found that of the 199 countries that reports to it regarding the Code, only 37 (19%) enforce domestic legislation reflecting all its recommendations.

Related topics: Policy, Oceania

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