Old Tricks, New Opportunities: How Companies Violate the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and Undermine Maternal and Child Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Ching C, Zambrano P, Nguyen TT, Tharaney M, Zafimanjaka MG, Mathisen R.
International journal of environmental research and public health. 2021; 18(5):

Abstract

Breastfeeding is critical to maternal and child health and survival, and the benefits persist until later in life. Inappropriate marketing of breastmilk substitutes (BMS), feeding bottles, and teats threatens the enabling environment of breastfeeding, and exacerbates child mortality, morbidity, and malnutrition, especially in the context of COVID-19. These tactics also violate the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. This study identified marketing tactics of BMS companies since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by reviewing promotional materials and activities from 9 companies in 14 countries, and the official Code reporting data from the Philippines. Eight qualitative themes emerged that indicate companies are capitalizing on fear related to COVID-19 by using health claims and misinformation about breastfeeding. Other promotional tactics such as donations and services were used to harness the public sentiment of hope and solidarity. Past studies show that these tactics are not new, but the pandemic has provided a new entry point, helped along by the unprecedented boom in digital marketing. There was a sharp increase of reported violations in the Philippines since the pandemic: 291 during the first months of the outbreak compared with 70 in all of 2019, corroborating the thematic findings. A lack of public awareness about the harm of donations and inadequate Code implementation and enforcement have exacerbated these problems. Proposed immediate action includes using monitoring findings to inform World Health Assembly (WHA) actions, targeted enforcement, and addressing misinformation about breastfeeding in the context of COVID-19. Longer-term action includes holding social media platforms accountable, raising public awareness on the Code, and mobilizing community monitoring.



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