Formula labeling violations to the WHO Code: A quantitative and qualitative analysis

Ana M. Parrilla-Rodriguez, Jose J. Gorrin-Peralta


Background: The WHO Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is intended to be adopted as a minimum requirement by all governments and aims to protect infant health by preventing inappropriate marketing of breastmilk substitutes. Labels need to have correct and clear dispositions since they frequently are the only source of vital information for consumers regarding the content of the product and its uses. Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine violations to the provisions of the International Code Article 9 regarding infant formula labeling existing in Puerto Rico. Methods: A quantitative and qualitative evaluation of 34 labels of infant formula was done. Instrument 4- A of the IBFAN Monitoring Project (IMPIII) and the Standard IBFAN Monitoring (SIM) was utilized. This instrument included 14 criteria that identified violations to the International Code of Breastmilk Substitutes on labeling. Descriptive analysis was used for all variables. The 34 labels evaluated represent 77.3% of infant formula labels of the four companies which market them in the island. Results: All the labels (100%) that were evaluated were found to violate the Code in one or more of its dispositions. Most striking violations include: a statement that breastfeeding is best is lacking in 73.5%, as well as a statement that the product should be used only on the advice of a health worker. None of the labels are written in Spanish, the local language. Text which may idealize the use of infant formula or discourage breastfeeding is present in 97.1% of the samples, and the same percentage has a photo or picture idealizing the use of infant formula. Conclusions: It is vital to produce legislation that implants the WHO Code in Puerto Rico in order to regulate indiscriminate marketing practices and their subsequent ill effects on children’s health and breastfeeding practices.


Formula, Labels; Breastfeeding; WHO Code; Marketing

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