- Brands accused of promising product benefits that are not based on scientific evidence
- ‘New parents are being taken advantage of’
- Comprehensive overhaul of infant formula products and regulation needed
A new report has accused four of the world’s biggest baby formula companies Nestlé, Danone, Mead Johnson Nutrition and Abbott of targeting mothers to use their products using false claims that are not actually based on scientific evidence but merely designed to boost profit.
The new study ‘Milking It – How Milk Formula Companies Are Putting Profits Before Science’ published by corporate watchdog Changing Markets reviewed over 400 breast milk substitute products in 14 countries and concluded that the increasing product differentiation is not science-based at all, but instead informed by careful market research into consumer preferences, guided by a desire to boost profits.
The report exposes the lack of scientific underpinning behind the products breast milk substitute manufacturers put on different markets. “Manufacturers are constantly placing new formula products on the market with a variety of different claims. Often, they claim that their products are informed by the ‘latest developments in nutritional science’. However, the wide variety of products on sale within and between countries and the efforts of companies to push expensive premium products, especially to high-growth markets, call such claims into question.” The research shows that manufacturers behave very differently in different markets, and that often their products are closer to those of their direct competitors within the same market than their own products elsewhere.
According to the study, companies use very sophisticated market research and social media to primarily gauge consumer affordability and willingness as the key determinant of additional ingredients and nutritional claims. “There is evidence that such decisions are primarily informed by market research instead of scientific or health considerations. We have identified companies’ very sophisticated use of market research and social media to study consumer preferences in this area. Such research seems to be primarily focused on consumer affordability and willingness to pay, as there is no clear scientific justification for the very large price differences observed within brands on each market and also within brands across different countries,” it read in part. The study also found that while the companies often claim these benefits are based on “the best nutritional science available” that was rarely the case. Regulation of these claims and the actual ingredients, the study reported, was lax across many countries.
The World Health Organization estimates that optimal breastfeeding could save the lives of 820,000 children under the age of five every year. On an individual level, a person’s health later in life is crucially dependent on their nutrition during the first two years of their lives. Despite overwhelming evidence that breastfeeding provides many benefits, including optimal nutrition for infants, globally, only about 36% of babies under six months are exclusively breastfed.
The report also calls for a comprehensive overhaul of infant formula products and their regulation so that only those based on unequivocal scientific advice are sold.Neither Nestle, Danone, Mead Johnson and Abott have challenged findings by changing markets in the last month it realesed it’s study.