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Report Shows Exploitative Tactics Used by Baby Milk Industry 

May 4, 2022 by Alexa Hornbeck
Report Shows Exploitative Tactics Used by Baby Milk Industry 
Mother and son (photo by juliakaufmann via Pixabay)

The World Health Organization recently released a report on the global milk formula industry’s exploitative marketing practices that target new mothers with personalized social media content that’s difficult to spot as advertising. 

The baby formula industry, valued at $55 billion, has been using virtual support groups or “baby-clubs,” paid social media influencers and advice forums to send personalized promotions to pregnant women and mothers.

WHO researchers analyzed 4 million social media posts about infant feeding that were published from January and June 2021 using a commercial social listening platform. These posts reached 2.47 billion people and generated more than 12 million likes, shares or comments.

The report shows that milk formula companies posted content to their social media accounts about 90 times per day to reach 229 million users. These companies can reach three times as many people through informational posts about breastfeeding from non-commercial accounts. 


The WHO is concerned that the pervasive marketing is increasing purchases of breast milk substitutes, upsetting the agency’s recommendations for breastfeeding.


Such exploitative practices violate the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, a public health agreement adopted in 1981 to protect the public and mothers from aggressive marketing by the baby food industry.

The WHO will consider new approaches to regulation and enforcement, and is calling on manufacturers and distributors, governments, health professionals and investors to end exploitative marketing through an online petition.

The report is the second in a series, with the first released in February. 


The WHO will continue to examine the scope and impact of digital marketing strategies for promoting breast milk substitutes.

Alexa can be reached at [email protected]

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