• Open Access

Infant food marketing strategies undermine effective regulation of breast-milk substitutes: trends in print advertising in Australia, 1950–2010


  • Julie Smith,

    1. Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, The Australian National University, ACT
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  • Miranda Blake

    1. Summer Scholar, The Australian National University, ACT; Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics Honours Student, Monash University, Victoria
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Correspondence to: Dr Julie Smith, Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, Building 62, Cnr Mills and Eggleston Roads, The Australian National University ACT 0200; e-mail: julie.smith@anu.edu.au


Objective : This study addresses the issue of whether voluntary industry regulation has altered companies’ marketing of breast-milk substitutes in Australia since the adoption of the World Health Organization (WHO) International Code on the Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes 1981.

Methods : Print advertisements marketing breast-milk substitutes were systematically sampled from the Australian Women's Weekly (AWW) magazine and the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) for the 61 years from 1950 to 2010.

Results : Breast-milk substitute advertising in both the MJA and the AWW peaked and began declining before the introduction of the WHO Code in 1981. Although there was almost no infant formula advertising in AWW after 1975–79, other breast-milk substitute advertising has been increasing since 1992, in particular for baby food, toddler formula and food and brand promotion.

Conclusions : Companies have adopted strategies to minimise the effects of the Code on sales and profit in Australia, including increasing toddler formula and food advertisements, increasing brand promotion to the public, and complying with more limited voluntary regulatory arrangements.

Implications : Comprehensive regulation is urgently required to address changed marketing practices if it is to protect breastfeeding in Australia.