Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The need for independent information and where to find some

Over the past couple of days I've looked at how baby food companies in the UK are targeting pregnant women and mothers with materials and videos that conflict with or undermine recommendations on infant feeding from the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health.

One of the favoured ways companies try to reach potential customers is through 'carelines' which are heavily advertised in the print media, on radio and television and on leaflets and materials distributed to parents through the health care system. In some places parents even receive promotional information when they register the birth of their child (see Monday's blog on Hipp).

We exposed during World Breastfeeding Week in August 2006 the type of promotion that is done on the Wyeth / SMA careline. According to an entry on the company's own website, one of the most common questions and its answer are as follows:


Q: How does infant formula support my baby's development?

A: The first six months of your baby's life are an exciting time. Their first smile, first look, holding their head up, first tooth, rolling over and sitting up - there are many developmental milestones they will reach in those important weeks and months.

Nutrition is a vital part of supporting this rapid development. Breastfeeding is the best option, because breast milk contains the ideal balance of all the key nutrients babies need for healthy growth. But some mothers are unable to breastfeed or choose not to for physical, social or practical reasons. They can still provide all the necessary goodness by choosing an infant milk with a balance of nutrients as close to breast milk as possible, like SMA Gold*.

SMA Gold has a fat blend that is balanced to meet your baby's needs. It is well absorbed, providing your baby with the necessary calories giving energy to keep pace with all the milestones coming up. It improves the absorption of calcium, which is important for the healthy growth and development of bones and teeth.

It's a source of essential fatty acids, with beneficial LCPs (long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) present in a similar ratio to those in breast milk. These are involved in the development of your baby's eyes, brain and nervous system.

SMA Gold is a whey-based infant milk, with a balance of proteins similar to that in breast milk. Protein is an important building block for the development of all your baby's organs, including skin and body tissue.

SMA Gold can help ensure that babies who are not breastfed don't miss out on a good start in life, providing the nutrients they need to grow and progress from tiny bundles of joy to walking, talking toddlers.

I have written in several past blogs how the claims made about the addition of LCPs are not substantiated by the evidence as found in a systematic review of research conducted by the Cochrane Library. You will also recall that market analysts said back when LCPs were going into commercial production for use in formula that it did not matter if they gave any health benefit or not as they would become a promotional tool used by companies to claim their products are close to breastmilk. So it has proved (see the blog entry:

The thing with these 'Carelines' is they are unnecessary. I spoke to someone from the Scottish National Health Service telephone help line a couple of years ago and was told that they have the capacity to handle far more calls than SMA professes to receive. So the companies are not providing a service that is unavailable through independent means. A 'Careline' is not the same as a customer service number, which people may need to call if they have a concern about the product. It is promoted for giving infant care advice.

The same promotional role is found with company information on infant feeding. But, again, there are independent sources.

Resources on all aspects of infant feeding are available in a wide range of languages from the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative. See

The advantage of having information free from commercial interests is clear from these resources and shows the benefit are for mothers who bottle feed as well as those who breastfeed. So, the information on mixing up a bottle gives good clear advice on how to reduce the risks of possible contamination with pathogens such as Enterobacter Sakazakii, contamination which is worryingly common. The baby food companies are still opposing calls by the World Health Assembly for this information to be included on labels and certainly don't mention it in their promotional materials claiming their formula helps to boost a child's natural defences.

Other sources of independent information are the mother support groups. You can find UK contact details in the 'Links' section of our website. See

Company 'Carelines' do not provide a service that is otherwise lacking. They are either directly promotional, as in the example quoted above, or serve at least to make contact with mothers to provide other promotional materials. They should be prohibited in line with World Health Assembly marketing standards and government resources put into increased support for independent sources of information.

There is a UK campaign calling for such a joined-up approach to infant feeding in government policy. It is called the Breastfeeding Manifesto. Something to be explored in future blogs, but you can find information now and ask your Member of Parliament to give support if you are in the UK here:

No comments: