by Lisa Mandell, Global Advocacy Adviser, ILCA
In November of 2022, I participated in a series of virtual meetings organized by World Health Organization (WHO) that addressed sponsorships from the baby food industry. Attended by a number of national and international healthcare professional associations (HCPAs), these meetings were an important step in the long process of realizing the goals of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (Code), and all subsequent, relevant WHA resolutions.
During the meetings, the case was made for why it is critical to end such sponsorships, and several speakers presented their successes in doing so. Attendees participated in breakout group discussions aimed at identifying reasons for accepting sponsorships, key obstacles to moving forward, and opportunities and next steps.
Associations such as Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP), and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) highlighted how they ended such sponsorships. The BMJ ended advertising from formula companies as a result of commissioning an article by Chris van Tulleken in 2018 on “Overdiagnosis and Industry Influence: How Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy is Extending the Reach of Infant Formula Manufacturers.” This article identified that prescriptions for specialized commercial milk formulas for infants with cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) increased by nearly 500% over a ten year period, from 2006 to 2016, while there is no epidemiological data to support such a large increase in prevalence of CMPA, and suggesting an industry-driven overdiagnosis. When physicians get their information about CMPA from formula manufacturers and their research, they are subject to the bias of the commercial entity.
ILCA has been a leader in refusing sponsorship from companies who do not meet their obligations under the Code. ILCA’s International Code Committee critically reviews all applications for sponsorship, and works with companies to understand their obligations. This recent meeting was an opportunity to share that expertise with other associations, as well as ILCA’s continued work and diligence in this area. ILCA is also a member of the planning committee for a Global Congress on Implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes being convened by WHO and UNICEF in June 2023.
Stay tuned for more information on ending sponsorship by HCPAs, and increasing implementation and monitoring of the Code – and especially what YOU can do to help.