WHO/UNICEF release scathing report, call to action on formula marketing


The World Health Organization and UNICEF have released their long-awaited report on formula marketing. According to the report, “Formula milk is a US $55 billion per year industry that systematically undermines parents’ infant feeding decisions and compromises women’s and children’s health and human rights.” It also states, “Marketing of formula is emblematic of marketing of other products such as tobacco or gambling that prioritize sales over health and well-being.”

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Study: hospital formula supplementation impacts breastfeeding in subsequent children


July 18, 2021- A rigorous study showed that formula supplementation in the hospital decreased a mother’s likelihood of sustained exclusive breastfeeding. Hospital supplementation decreased her likelihood of initiating breastfeeding in a subsequent child by at least 66%, and reduced the duration of breastfeeding in any subsequent children by at least 6 weeks.

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Philadelphia and DC are now bag free cities

All six birthing hospitals in the city of Philadelphia have  and all eight birthing hospitals in Washington, DC have eliminated distribution of industry sponsored formula bags as of August 1, 2014.  Philadelphia’s effort comes as part of a larger effort to improve breastfeeding support in that city’s birthing hospitals. A bag free Philadelphia coincides with efforts of the Philadelphia Multi-Hospital Breastfeeding Task Force to declare Philadelphia “The City of Motherly Love” and encourage members of the public to sign a pledge showing their support for nursing mothers in the city.  According to Dr. Sahira Long, chair of the DC Breastfeeding Coalition, some facilities stopped earlier than others, but all stopped giving out the bags voluntarily as of August 1.

Massachusetts Celebrates Banning the Bags

July 22nd, 2012
BOSTON— Massachusetts celebrated being the nation’s second and largest bag-free state today in a celebration at the State House. “We are so proud of our 49 hospitals. This wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t a cost-neutral decision for a lot of the hospitals,” said Dr. Bobbi Philipp, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and head of the Mother-Baby Summit Initiative. At the celebration, Marsha Walker, head of Ban the Bags, issued an ambitious challenge: the next celebration will be when all our hospitals become Baby-Friendly. Dr. Lauren Smith, a pediatrician and the medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, was effusive in her praise for this accomplishment. DPH has been a strong supporter of breastfeeding and a close partner of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition for many years.

The event’s host, State Senator Susan Fargo, who sponsored the legislation that gave mothers the right to nurse in public, spoke of the importance of selecting politicians with a strong record on public health. She noted that Mitt Romney, who forced DPH to rescind a DPH regulation banning marketing of infant formula by hospitals when he was governor, had a poor record in this regard, including hiring public health officials with no public health background.

Dr. Melissa Bartick, an internist and chair of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition, noted “this is a grass-roots, David vs. Goliath victory for public health, and we deserve to be very very proud.” She detailed the events that occurred under Governor Romney in 2006, including the story of the banner that hung behind all the speakers, which reads “Why are hospitals marketing baby formula? Hospitals should market health, and nothing else.” The same banner was used at MBC’s State House demonstration in 2006 in an unsuccessful attempt to convince Romney to reverse his decision. Those efforts, she noted, had the support of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Massachusetts section of the American College of OB-GYN, and the Massachusetts Medical Society (publishers of the New England Journal of Medicine). Bartick urged the nation to move forward in eliminating conflicts of interest. As long as our health institutions take money from formula companies, fast food, and soft-drink manufacturers, she stated, “they cannot truly practice evidence-based medicine.” She noted that the national office of the American Academy of Pediatrics accepts financial support from all these companies. “Taking such money will ultimately cost these institutions their credibility, something that no amount of money can buy.”

After the State House celebration, Drs. Philipp and Bartick and Marsha Walker took some of the formula companies bags to the site of the original Boston Tea Party to ceremonially “throw them overboard” for the cameras. (Not to worry– MBC would not litter the Boston Harbor).

Massachusetts’ accomplishment and Romney’s role in it were featured in an explosive article in Time which came out yesterday. Dr. Philipp was interviewed today about the on WBUR, an NPR station, where she faced off with “Skeptical OB” blogger Dr. Amy Tuteur. The Boston Globe featured a story on the ban on July 13. WLBZ TV in Bangor, ME ran a story today featuring Anne Merewood, PhD of Boston Medical Center who researches the bags.

From the comments in some of the media, it is clear that not everyone understands why this ban matters. To this, Dr. Bartick asks, “In what universe is it ever OK for your hospitals, doctors, and nurses to be marketing a pricey brand-name product to you that you do not need?” Even if you never plan to breastfeed, she pointed out today, this pricey brand will cost you $700 more per year than store brand, and you are likely to stick to the brand that was marketed to you in the hospital.

Massachusetts hospitals eliminate formula marketing, becoming the nation’s second “bag-free state”


Boston — As of July 1, 2012, all 49 Massachusetts maternity facilities have voluntarily eliminated the formula company diaper bags, traditionally given to new moms at hospital discharge. Massachusetts became the nation’s second “bag-free” state after Rhode Island’s seven hospitals eliminated the bags in 2011. The achievement will be celebrated on July 18, at 10:30 am at Nurse’s Hall at the State House, in an event that includes Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

In 2005, nearly all maternity facilities in the state were giving out discharge bags from formula companies. The marketing technique is particularly effective in lowering breastfeeding rates in part because of the implied endorsement of the hospital and health professionals. The bags often come with a requirement that hospitals get their formula for free, which contributes greatly to unnecessary use of formula by breastfeeding mothers. Research has consistently shown that such use is one of the strongest predictors of early breastfeeding failure— with a resultant increase in formula sales.
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Rhode Island Birthing Hospitals End Baby Formula Giveaways


Providence, Rhode Island — As part of efforts to support breastfeeding mothers, women who give birth in Rhode Island will no longer receive infant formula marketing packs when they head home from the hospital. Rhode Island’s First Lady, Stephanie Chafee, Lieutenant Governor, Elizabeth Roberts, RI Department of Health Director, Michael Fine, and Marsha Walker from the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition’s Ban the Bags campaign joined the Rhode Island Health Department Monday November 28, 2011 in celebrating the state’s becoming the first in the nation to eliminate the distribution of infant formula marketing bags in all of Rhode Island’s birthing hospitals.

Director Fine, the Lt. Governor as well as the First Lady spoke of their commitment to breastfeeding families and their support of the hospitals’ efforts in this giant step forward in removing the commercial barriers to breastfeeding. State health officials noted that studies link giveaways to decreased breastfeeding rates, which is not in keeping with their efforts to promote optimal health for mothers and infants in Rhode Island.

For more information, see coverage in USA Today.


Welcome to BanTheBags.org, home of the national campaign to stop hospital-based marketing of infant formula to new mothers.


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About Our Ad:

Our ad focuses on formula marketing as a consumer issue, and part of a bigger pattern of unethical marketing techniques from the pharmaceutical industry. In this sense, we can show our leaders that this practice affects all citizens, and is not just an issue about breastfeeding.

Because research shows that formula fed babies incur higher health care costs, this results in increased expenditures for Medicaid and private insurers, and can potentially drive up premiums. Research also shows that mothers of formula fed babies miss more time from work, resulting in decreased economic productivity.

Where did we get $700?

Our WIC reference shows over a $700 price difference between formulas marketed by hospitals, and store brands. A conservative estimate shows the name brands cost 66% more. Other sources show an even greater difference in price. The Sam’s Club website shows $.82 per ounce of name-brand powder (in bulk) compared to $.32 for their own brand? more than twice as much.

Research shows brand loyalty runs high with consumers of baby formula. Parents are often hesitant to switch to a different brand if they know their baby is tolerating the expensive brand they started in the hospital.