New research finds baby milk formula exacerbates obesity. Industry partnership spins the new formulas as 'closer to breastmilk' breakthrough

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New research finds baby milk formula exacerbates obesity.  industry partnership  spins the new formulas as 'closer to breastmilk' breakthrough

The results of two studies,  the  EU Childhood Obesity Project (CHOP) and  the Early Nutrition Programming Project (EARNEST) (1)  being presented at a Congress in Munich this week,  show that the composition of formulas on the European market has played a significant role in the exacerbation of childhood obesity,  confirming what WHO and many health bodies have been saying for many years that breastfeeding provides an ideal window of opportunity for obesity prevention and may help in the development of taste receptors and appetite control. (2)

The studies have been part-funded by the European Commission, but have also had substantial  input from the baby food manufacturer, Danone.  Nestlé and NUMICO (now a Danone subsidiary) are also  listed on the EU website as partners and all are sponsors of the Munich Congress.  This  baby food industry involvement  raises many ethical problems, not least in the way the results are being communicated and used and the ethics of recruiting newborn babies for such studies.

According to the Press Release about the study, the 1,000 infants  fed on a modified baby milk with a lower protein content weighed significantly less than those on higher protein formula. However, the press release goes on to spin the story as a breakthrough which will make formula 'closer to the composition of breastmilk' , saying babies fed on the formula have weights 'more similar to those of breast fed infants.''   No mention is made of the harm that is caused by the products promoted and marketed by the industries involved.  

Patti Rundall, OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action says:   "This shows the danger of industry involvement in public health research: instead of people being alerted to the role breastmilk substitutes have played - and are still playing - in the obesity epidemic,   they are being told a 'closer to breastmilk' formula is on the way. We are expected to forget they new  formulas, touted as 'closer to breastmilk,'  appear every 6 months or so.  While all health bodies want formulas to be less harmful,  no one should pretend or imply that these products are in any way equivalent to breastmilk - a living, constantly changing product that is impossible to match and which provides optimal, unique, perfectly balanced and safe nutrition for babies.   

One has to ask - should public health research funds be used to promote artificial feeding  of babies?  If there were no industry involvement and the formula used in the studies had been paid for at market prices, the Press Release might  have  highlighted the harm being caused by existing formulas,  and stressed  the countless other known risks which will  persist even with this new lower protein composition. "  (3)

Baby Milk Action has lodged complaints to the European Commission about the lack of transparency of the  Coordinator of the studies, Prof Bert Koletzsko and his failure to acknowledge the conflict of interest in the Danone and Nestlé involvement.   Prof Koletzsko,    former Chair of the  European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN), has had a big influence on policy setting in  Europe and globally.  While he has lobbied for changes in the composition of formulas, he has  consistently  failed to address marketing issues and did not join other health professional bodies who were calling for European  legislation to ban the use of  health claims  on foods for infants and young children, such as the UK Government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) which said:  "We find the case for labelling infant formula or follow on formula with health or nutrition claims entirely unsupportable. If an ingredient is unequivocally beneficial as demonstrated by independent review of scientific data it would be unethical to withhold it for commercial reasons. Rather it should be made a required ingredient of infant formula in order to reduce existing risks associated with artificial feeding. To do otherwise is not in the best interests of children, and fails to recognise the crucial distinction between these products and other foods."(4)

The  consequence was  that EU legislation serious loopholes which allow - among other things  - several health and nutrition claims.  Baby  food companies exploit these loopholes  to the full and are highly  likely use them to promote the new  formulas. 

Baby Milk Action is the Secretariat of the   Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG), which represents  24 health, union and mother support organisations, such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,  the Royal Colleges of Midwives and Nursing and UNISON. BFLG  has campaigned for a  tightening of the legislation in line with the recommendations  adopted at the World Health Assembly and specifically for a ban on  health and nutrition claims on all foods for infants and young children. (5)

For more information contact:  Patti Rundall on +44 (0) 7786 523493   or Mike Brady : + 44 (0)7986 736179


1  EARNEST is funded under the Food Quality and Safety Priority of the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technical Development of the European Community (FOOD-CT-2005-007036).  The EU is contributing 13.4 million euros towards a total cost of 16.5 million euros The project will run from 2005 to 2010 and is being coordinated by Professor Koletzko of the Children's Hospital, University of Munich, Germany.
 The EARNEST website states: Bledina, a French infant formula producer, will produce the formula to be tested. Groupe Danone contributes to the project through the expertise of its Research Center Danone Vitapole.  Moreover, the Danone Institutes, non-profit scientific associations in 7 European Countries will contribute to the dissemination of the knowledge and will allow the follow up to the project. This research program belongs to the "Infant Nutrition Cluster".  
The website also lists the companies sponsoring the Congress including, Nestle Nutrition, Danone and Abbott Nutrition Health Institute,  

Nestlé’s share of the global baby milk and baby food market is cited as 26% following its takeover of Gerber, with Danone in second place on 14% following its takeover of the NUMICO brands (Nutricia, Milupa/Aptamil, Cow & Gate). Euromonitor International

2 Baby Milk Action's Infant feeding and Obesity Poster summarises some of the research, including the fact that “Artificially fed infants consume 30,000 more calories than breastfed infants by 8 months of age” (equivalent to 120 chocolate bars - 4 a week). Student Study Guide for Breastfeeding and Human Lactation KG Auerbach, J Riordan - 1993 and that the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considered that there are two potential, cost-effective interventions that can be put into place immediately to deal with the childhood obesity epidemic: decreased television viewing and breastfeeding promotion.
Other briefings, including How companies use Education to Build Trust are available here: 

3 The potential for bias is present in all research. However, it is reduced if research is funded by a disinterested party rather than one active in the market. Research on infant and young child feeding which forms the basis for public health policies should be free from commercial influence and the European Commission and other funding bodies should provide 100% funding for research in this specific, and quite well-defined area. This would help guarantee optimal levels of health protection and would improve public trust.  

5  Companies currently target parents with health and nutrition claims which are very misleading and  do not stand up to scrutiny. The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled against Danone's claim in an advertisement that Aptamil formula 'supports your baby's natural immune system' (left), but this claim continues to be used on follow-on formula labels. See:

 6 Further comments on industry funding of pediatricians  can be found on these links:
Nestle Sponsor Doctors Conferences - Breaking the Indian Law
European opinion on baby foods influenced by industry funding  Press release 23 Decemeber 2009



"Childhood obesity rates have

"Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past 30 years". From this, the governments all over the world continuously finding a solution to the epidemic situation of the young children today. Obesity causes diabetes and other disease that can lead to death. But according to a study on human body appearance conducted recently by Pepperdine University researchers shows that possibly even 3-year-old females are weight conscious, writes Live Science. I found this here: Even 3-year-olds think being thin is in Becoming slender is seen as an “emotionally invested” topic for young girls sampled in the study. Child psychologists discover the outcomes to be disturbing, as body unhappiness issues have been linked to the occurrence of eating problems.