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11 Countermarketing commercial formula: a potential effective strategy to address aggressive marketing of formula that leads to breastfeeding cessation and adverse health effects
  1. Irma Hidayana
  1. Independent Consultant/Researcher, Jakarta, Indonesia. Columbia University’s Teachers College, New York, USA


Background Aggressive marketing of commercial formulas as substitutes for breast milk is associated with reduced rates and shorter duration of breastfeeding. When breastfeeding practice is suboptimal, it correlated with more than 800 000 annual deaths in young children and 20 000 annual deaths in women caused by breast cancer globally. Furthermore, the World Health Organization suggested that commercial formula marketing also contributes to obesity and non-communicable diseases, importantly; they create dependency on commercial formula.

Objectives The objective of this presentation is to offer an approach to counter the marketing of commercial formula and other complementary foods that have adverse health effects for mothers and children and, in particular, on the rate and duration of breastfeeding.

Methods This presentation discusses the following components:

  1. The potential for countermarketing commercial formula campaigns to reduce the demand and dependency of formula; and,

  2. Key elements of the commercial formula countermarketing approach, such as describing adverse health consequences for infants and young children, highlighting the baby food industry’s heavy use of unsubstantiated health and nutrition claims on the products, and using manipulation to evoke mothers’ anxiety about breastfeeding

Results Countermarketing strategies have been shown to be effective in reducing smoking rates. Drawing on lessons learned from tobacco control, the same strategies could potentially be used to reduce the demand for commercial formula and lead to changes in the baby food industry’s marketing practices. More specifically, the use of the available scientific evidence in a countermarketing approach counters the practices that the baby food industry uses to sell products that compete breastfeeding. In this manner, the countermarketing approach provides hope in informing and influencing mothers’ decisions regarding infant and young child feeding that enhance health. Moreover, findings from a study in Indonesia also demonstrated that countermarketing commercial formula emerged as an evidence-based strategy in addressing the aggressive marketing of baby formula.

Conclusion Based on the inclusion of countermarketing approach not previously brought to attention in addressing the unethical and aggressive marketing of formula, the approach may potentially be used as a strategy that helps to effectively support and protect breastfeeding and reduce the risks of illness in children and mothers that might be caused by commercial formula use.

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