Breastfeeding Medicine

Physicians blogging about breastfeeding

Formula marketing’s effect on the public purse

with one comment

I just came across a fascinating recent report from the US Center on Budget and Policy Priorities detailing the effects of the formula industry on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) budget.

Briefly, although there is no evidence that new “functional ingredients” (ie DHA, ARA, probiotics) in infant formula are beneficial for term infants, WIC appears to be spending more than 10 percent extra (more than $90 million per year) on these ingredients, based on a recent study by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Economic Research Service.

The problem is related to the fact that, while the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for determining safety of food products, it is not responsible for assessing the accuracy of claims of efficacy. And the USDA is the agency responsible for administering WIC, but at present decisions regarding which formula to offer are left to state WIC programs.

Current WIC reauthorization legislation (unanimously approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee last month) includes a provision clarifying that USDA has the authority to disallow foods with specific ingredients, based on scientific evidence of health or developmental benefits.

Not surprisingly, the formula industry opposes this legislation, since it could significantly restrict future profits on further “advances”: WIC purchases more than half of all infant formula sold in the United States.

Kimberly Lee is a neonatologist and member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.

Written by neobfmd

June 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Posted in ethics, In the news, policy

One Response

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  1. I am a Registered Dietitian working for a local WIC clinic. We are dismayed by the problems caused for our clients with the changes in formula provision not related to true health benefits. I recently viewed an FDA spot on their new focus related to nutritional benefits related to foods (not just food safety). Although their focus has always been food safety, it seems FDA is noting the labeling problems in many different foods related to supposed “nutritional benefit”. I have written and I hope many of my fellow clinical and nutrition professionals will write FDA as well to take action on the way formulas are being marketed as having nutritional benefits when it is not warranted.

    I also hope you will write about the way the formula companies are marketing some of their products for conditions that are normal for formula fed infants. For example – fussiness and gas and changing to soy formula from cow’s milk based formula. The formula change will not likely make a significant difference for the infants who are formula fed. Their guts are not able to tolerate many of the proteins in formula. Typically, an infant will outgrow the formula intolerance; however, the parent comes to believe that the infant has a lifelong problem when none truly exists.


    June 21, 2010 at 7:55 pm

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