By Elisabeth Mahase
Organisers of the British Journal of Midwifery’s annual conference, which is set to take place in March, have been criticised for accepting sponsorship from formula milk companies, something that the World Health Organisation advises against.
Three companies that market formula milk (Aptamil, Kendamil, and Nestlé) are sponsoring the conference and have each been given a 40 minute slot during the one day conference programme.1
Campaigners and researchers have raised concerns, especially in light of ongoing criticisms of the marketing tactics used by the industry, which include exploiting parents’ anxieties and undermining their confidence in breastfeeding.23 The critics have called on the journal to follow in the footsteps of other organisations and drop financial ties to infant formula firms.
In 2019 The BMJ announced that it would no longer carry advertisements for breastmilk substitutes,4 and after pressure from clinicians and campaigners the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health also said that it would stop accepting funding from formula milk companies.5
Robert Boyle, a clinical reader in paediatric allergy at Imperial College London, told The BMJ, “Formula company marketing aims to disrupt breastfeeding, their main competitor, so that the companies can sell more formula. They also aim to persuade customers to purchase higher cost products by making misleading claims that their ingredients and products have special health or nutrition benefits.”
He added, “It is really disappointing to see the British Journal of Midwifery planning a health professional conference supported by formula companies. This type of activity is likely to have a negative impact on the practice of the health professionals who attend the conference and the health and wellbeing of those whom they care for.”
Last year WHO said that companies that market foods to infants and young children should not sponsor meetings. “Health workers, health systems, and health professional associations should not allow [such sponsorship],” it said.6
Katie Pereira-Kotze, senior nutritionist at the nutrition charity First Steps Nutrition Trust, told The BMJ, “Sponsorship of health professional conferences and associations has a long history, but these relationships raise concerns about conflicts of interest. The contradiction between profit driven commercial entities and healthcare professionals, whose duty is to offer unbiased guidance for patient wellbeing, is inappropriate.”
- British Journal of Midwifery. Programme. BJM conference 2024. https://www.bjmconference.co.uk/programme
- Wise J. Formula milk companies are exploiting legal loopholes, say campaigners. BMJ2022;379:o2926. doi:10.1136/bmj.o2926 pmid:36740885
- Mahase E. Formula milk industry “misuses and distorts” information to manipulate parents, says report. BMJ2022;376:o433. doi:10.1136/bmj.o433 pmid:35197245
- Godlee F, Cook S, Coombes R, El-Omar E, Brown N. Calling time on formula milk adverts. BMJ2019;364:l1200. doi:10.1136/bmj.l1200 pmid:30880279
- Mayor S. Royal college stops taking funding from formula milk firms. BMJ2019;364:l743. doi:10.1136/bmj.l743 pmid:30765375
- World Health Organization. Unicef. Clarification on sponsorship of health professional and scientific meetings by companies that market foods for infants and young children. 2023. https://iris.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665/369451/9789240074422-eng.pdf