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New Study Shows Nearly All Largest Public Hospitals Have Ended Infant Formula Marketing

April 26, 2016

New Study Shows Nearly All Largest Public Hospitals Have Ended Infant Formula Marketing

Prohibiting In-Hospital Formula Promotion Is Now Best Practice Nationwide

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly all of the largest public hospitals have ended infant formula marketing, according to a study (PDF) released today by Public Citizen.

The report (PDF), “Infant Formula Marketing in Public Hospitals: An Outdated and Unethical Practice,” found that public hospitals are overwhelmingly following the trend in eliminating the distribution of infant formula company-sponsored discharge bags and promotional materials.

Of the 62 hospitals that Public Citizen surveyed and received responses from, 95 percent (59 out of 62) are completely free of all forms of infant formula marketing. One hospital does not distribute formula sample bags, but does distribute promotional coupons. The other two hospitals that do distribute formula sample bags have plans to stop.

“The day is fast-approaching when the abhorrent practice of hospitals serving as stealth marketers for infant formula manufacturers is coming to an end,” said Kristen Strader, coordinator of Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert campaign and author of the report. “The good news in today’s report is that public hospitals, who serve many of the nation’s poorest communities, have almost completely stopped infant formula giveaways that undermine pro-breastfeeding messages.”

There is overwhelming agreement by major health care organizations that distributing discharge bags sends the wrong message to mothers that hospitals endorse formula feeding. The global medical community agrees that instead of using formula, breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months after a child is born has numerous short and long-term health benefits for both babies and mothers.

Since 2012, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert campaign has called on hospitals and all health care facilities to end infant formula marketing. Through letter writing, state-wide campaigns, petition delivery and public pressure, rates of infant formula sample distribution in hospitals have decreased significantly. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showed that the percentage of hospitals in the United States distributing discharge packs declined from 72.6 percent in 2007 to 31.4 percent in 2013.

“The trend to eliminate infant formula marketing is a step in the right direction towards supporting all mothers,” said Strader. “Hospitals that still distribute company-sponsored infant formula sample bags are lagging behind in the medical field and are putting infants and families at risk. We recommend that all hospitals follow this trend and provide health care free of corporate influence.”

The campaign to stop marketing of formula in health care facilities is concerned with how and where infant formula is marketed, not individual families’ choices about how they will feed their children. Infant formula remains available to infants in need while at the hospital.

Read the report (PDF), which includes the list of all public hospitals surveyed and their formula marketing policies.