The letter below is to America
Online for a questionable link to a formula ad (the letter
explains the situation quite clearly)."
2200 AOL Way
Sterling, Virginia 20166
attn: Steve Case
Dear Mr. Case:
I am disappointed to learn that one of your recent "AOL
Today" special topics promoted formula feeding for babies.
Specifically, there was an adorable girl with the caption
"Handle With Care: Don't you wish babies came with an
operator's manual? Here's one for you." The link led
not to a parenting book acclaimed by pediatricians or parents,
but to a special manual sponsored by Carnation. Carnation
is a manufacturer of baby formula; thus, it isn't surprising
that the "manual" included several references promoting
its formula via text and visual images.
If a baby did arrive with an operator's manual, it would
certainly include "PLEASE FEED ME BREASTMILK" in
the title page as well as most chapters, including those
on feeding, nurturing, health, nutrition, allergies, and
intelligence. Since such a manual is not reality, the American
Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published guidelines last year,
"Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk." This
policy statement, the result of many studies conducted over
several years, specifically recommended that women breastfeed
their children for at least the first 12 months and as long
as mutually desired thereafter.
While Carnation has the right to sell its product, it is
ludicrous to suggest that a baby's "manual" would
recommend formula. The current research and statistics, which
can be found in the AAP's policy statement (http://www.aap.org/policy/re9729.html),
show that formula fed infants have 10 times the risk of hospitalization
due to bacterial infection, double the risk of lower respiratory
tract infections, 3 to 4 times the risk of otitis media,
3 to 4 times the risk of diarrhea illness (in industrialized
nations), and 5 to 8 times the risk of childhood lymphomas.
Formula feeding accelerates the development of celiac disease
and is a risk factor for Crohn's disease and adult ulcerative
colitis. Formulas have been found to contain potentially
toxic levels of vitamin D, aluminum, high levels of iodine,
and bacterial contaminants including Enterobacter sakazakii.
Statistically, formula feeding is associated with a higher
incidence of allergies, cognitive deficiencies, cardiorespiratory
disturbances, morbidity, and mortality.
With all of these facts at hand, does it not seem absurd
that formula be found in any baby's care "manual"?
While Carnation should be held accountable for such a misleading
mode of advertising, it is a shame that AOL has appeared
to sponsor this ploy to gain formula market share, especially
given that AOL has such an active breastfeeding community.
The marketing of baby formula is difficult to do without
misleading the audience and distorting the facts. So it should
not be a surprise that the World Health Organization's 34th
Assembly, held on 21 May 1981, adopted the International
Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in the form
of a recommendation. Article 5.1 of the International Code
states that "there should be no advertising or other
form of promotion to the general public or mothers of products"
within the scope of the Code, including infant formula.
The United States' "Healthy People 2000" program
has the goal of increasing to 50% the number of women who
breastfeed their children until at least 5 to 6 months of
age. Sadly, though, less than 60% of mothers are breastfeeding
at the time of hospital discharge, and only about 20% are
still breastfeeding their babies at 6 months. The media and
those who sponsor advertising, including the electronic media
such as AOL, have an enormous impact on what we as a culture
deem "socially acceptable." Because of this, I
believe organizations such as AOL have an inherent responsibility
to ensure what is advertised, and even more so what is endorsed
(whether intentionally or perceived), is not deceptive nor
poses health risks.
I hope that this letter will provide some important education
within your organization on how dangerous the advertising
of formula can become. And I hope AOL can be more supportive
to the positive promotion of breastfeeding for the sake of
the health of our future generations.