Date & time
The United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Nutrition Targets recently committed governments to improving breastfeeding rates. This is given specific focus by the WHO’s Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal and Child Nutrition which sets global targets for increasing exclusive breastfeeding of children under six months of age.
The use of commercial milk-based formulas undermines optimal breastfeeding and is likely to impede progress towards these international commitments. Yet little is known about trends and patterns of global formula consumption. Phillip Baker and Julie Smith’s recent study, published in Public Health Nutrition, describes recent formula sales trends and patterns (our proxy for consumption) at the global, regional and national levels. In contrast to stable trends in global breastfeeding measures it was found that global formula sales increased by 40.8% from 5.5 to 7.8kg per infant/child between 2008 and 2013.
This figure is expected to increase to 10.8 kg by 2018. This ‘sales boom’ applies not only to infant formula (for ages 0-6 months) but also to follow-up (6-12 months) and toddler (12-36 months) formulas. China, Vietnam, and Indonesia – countries that have undergone rapid industrialisation and large-scale feminisation of their workforces – have experienced the most significant growth.
This indicates that a global infant and young child feeding transition is not only underway but is expected to continue apace. Although this is not a new phenomenon, our results suggest that the scale and rapidity of these contemporary changes is unprecedented.
Nevertheless, Baker and Smith found significant sales variations between countries at similar levels of development suggesting an important role for policy and regulatory factors in shaping formula consumption patterns. These include policies liberalising trade and investment, policy support for domestic formula industries as well as country-level implementation of global initiatives to protect, support and promote breastfeeding such as the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding (such as health services and maternity protection measures), and in particular the WHO International Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes.
About the Speakers
Dr Phillip Baker is a Research Fellow at the School of Regulation and Global Governance at the Australian National University (ANU). His work focuses on understanding political priority for nutrition, global nutrition epidemiology, the social determinants of health, and the political economy of public health. He has a PhD from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU. He is currently working within the Centre for Research Excellence on the Social Determinants of Health Equity.
Associate Professor Julie Smith was formerly a senior economist in Australian and New Zealand treasuries and department of finance. She has a PhD in Economics (ANU) and, prior to joining the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), was at the Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health, at the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and the Environment. She was an ARC Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health and ACERH and was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship in 2015 to investigate the regulation of markets in human milk and the valuation of human milk production in economic statistic such as GDP.