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Public Citizen to Newark Mayor: Partnering With Nestlé Won’t Help Solve City’s Childhood Obesity Problem

May 21, 2012

Public Citizen to Newark Mayor: Partnering With Nestlé Won’t Help Solve City’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 city of Newark’s “Let’s Move! Newark” program, which aims to address childhood obesity, should rethink its partnership with Nestlé, Public Citizen said in a letter to Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Earlier this year, Booker announced the partnership on camera, while standing in front of a display of Nestlé and Gerber (Nestlé’s infant formula brand) logos.

By partnering with Nestlé – the world’s largest producer of infant formula and a major producer of unhealthful foods – the city 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.

“Does Newark really need a candy manufacturer to help it address childhood obesity?” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said. “Nestlé aims to use its partnership with Newark to buttress its brand. Newark should look elsewhere for public health partners.”

 Nestlé’s role as a major producer of infant formula makes its participation in the Let’s Move! Newark 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 Newark, a city that faces high rates of child poverty.

Nestlé and other infant formula makers’ aggressive marketing practices threaten 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. “Public officials must ensure that programs intended to combat childhood obesity are not co-opted by corporations seeking to profit from this health crisis.”

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.

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