A global report from the World Health Organization (WHO) released on August 7 says that many formula-milk marketing strategies in Vietnam use messages which may lead to misunderstandings, and ads lack sufficient scientific evidence about the supposed improvement of a child’s height and weight.
The report pointed out that they use false images and scientific claims, misleading consumers into thinking that formula milk is nearly as good as or even better than breast milk thanks to nutrition such as HMO and DHA.
The findings are the result of a survey conducted from August 2019 to April 2021 in eight countries, including the UK, China, South Africa, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The report said formula in Vietnam is marketed via many different channels and under different methods.
The marketing has had a great influence on the attitudes of mothers. About 82 percent of Vietnamese mothers know about stage 2 formulas for children aged 6-12 months, and 96 percent of them believe that using formulas is a necessity. This understates the importance of breastfeeding.
Juliawati Untoro, Technical Lead Nutrition at WHO Western Pacific Region, said that the formula marketing strategies in Vietnam are often scientifically misleading which contain statements with no scientific basis, such as the statement that formula can help improve the height, weight and brain development of children.
The marketing statements may worsen challenges that parents face by increasing worries about breastfeeding and caring for infants.
The marketing messages also state that specialized milk products can solve problems that occur with infants, such as colic, gastroesophageal reflux, and fussiness despite insufficient evidence of efficacy.
Medical workers are the target subjects and major tool in the formula marketing campaigns.
Dairy producers use medical workers for advertisement campaigns to gain confidence from parents in their products. The producers are willing to pay high commissions, organize seminars and training courses, and fund the research to attract more clients. They also give gifts and pay for trips to advertise products.
This seems to be a wise advertisement strategy, because medical workers can easily approach individuals and parents. They are expected to give useful advice to parents and act as the major educational channel on infant feeding practices.
The researchers found that health workers in Vietnam have relations with formula manufacturers.
Regarding the regulation on prohibiting to advertise dairy products, Decree 100 released in 2014 on trading and using nutritious products for children stipulates that the advertisement of formula products for children aged below 24 months is prohibited.
The labeling, information, education and advertisement of dairy products must be implemented in a reasonable way.