Public Citizen to Michigan Governor: Partnering With Nestlé Won’t Help Solve State’s Childhood Obesity Problem

May 21, 2012 

Public Citizen to Michigan Governor: Partnering With Nestlé Won’t Help Solve State’s Childhood Obesity Problem

Appointing Nestlé As ‘Nutritional Expert’ Would Give Company Greater Opportunity to Market Infant Formula, Unhealthful Foods to Children, Letter Says

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The “Pure Michigan FIT program,” which is aimed at fighting childhood obesity, should rethink its partnership with Nestlé for “nutritional expertise,” Public Citizen said in a letter sent today to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

By partnering with Nestlé – the world’s largest producer of infant formula and a major producer of unhealthful foods – the state is undermining its own efforts to reduce childhood obesity, and instead is providing a venue for the company to market products that have been shown to lead to increased obesity, the letter said.

“Among the key components of the Pure Michigan FIT program is the goal of longer duration of breastfeeding, which is rightly identified as an important practice for reducing obesity,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said. “Nestlé’s infant formula sales depend in part on women choosing not to breastfeed. The company’s ability to effectively highlight the importance of breastfeeding is highly questionable.”

Nestlé’s role as a major producer of infant formula makes its participation in the Pure Michigan FIT program particularly problematic. One way to help curb childhood obesity is to breastfeed instead of use formula. In her recent “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding,” U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin emphasized that marketing of infant formula has a negative influence on breastfeeding.

Formula feeding is costly, both in terms of money spent on formula and the health of mothers and children, the letter said. Children who are not breastfed have more medical problems, including severe lower respiratory tract infections, obesity, diabetes, childhood leukemia and more. One study found that breastfed children are 22 percent less likely than those who are not to be obese. Formula feeding costs between $800 and $2,800 per year. This bears significant weight in Michigan, a state that has been particularly affected by the recession.

Nestlé and other infant formula makers’ aggressive marketing practices undermine public health. Public Citizen has launched an online petition calling on the three major formula makers – Nestlé (maker of Gerber), Abbott (maker of Similac) and Mead Johnson (maker of Enfamil) to stop marketing their products in healthcare facilities. To date, the petition has more than 15,000 signatures.

“In addition to heavily marketing its infant formula products, Nestlé also manufactures a variety of unhealthful products, including Wonka candy and Butterfinger, Crunch and Baby Ruth chocolate bars,” said Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project. “There is a considerable risk that Nestlé will use its role as a ‘nutritional expert’ in the Michigan program to unduly influence families to purchase its products.”

Added Weissman, “Does Michigan really need a candy manufacturer to help it address childhood obesity? Nestlé aims to use its partnership with the state of Michigan to buttress its brand. Snyder should look elsewhere for public health partners.”

Commercial Alert is a project of Public Citizen, a consumer protection organization based in Washington, D.C., with more than 300,000 members and supporters. The goal is to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.