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Do baby food companies comply with WHO guidelines?

Assessing baby food companies’ marketing breastmilk substitutes and complementary foods in the Philippines

Baby food manufacturers have a role in shaping the diets of infants and young children in the Philippines. The Access to Nutrition Foundation (ATNF), a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, commissioned Westat to assess if companies were meeting World Health Organization (WHO) and national guidelines.

The challenge was to

  • Assess whether the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and complementary foods intended for children up to 36 months of age align with the guidelines of the WHO and the Government of the Philippines
  • Provide a comprehensive overview to identify areas of improvement that can be addressed to help protect the health of Filipino children during the first 1,000 days and beyond

Westat used ODK programming for tablet data collection and a 2-stage sample design to select primary sampling units (PSUs). We led trainings in Manila for data collection staff from the Nutrition Center of the Philippines (NCP) to:

  • Interview mothers and health professionals
  • Identify informational materials produced by baby food companies available in health centers and retail stores
  • Identify sales promotions in retail stores and online retail platforms
  • Analyze product labels of relevant products on the local market
  • Monitor advertising and promotions on traditional and online media

In spite of the exceptional circumstances associated with the SARS CoV-2 pandemic, Westat and NCP finalized the data collection without severing any of the components of the study.

Westat analyzed the data and prepared the final report that ATNF presented to UNICEF, the Government, and other stakeholders.

Westat documented 122 incidents of noncompliance with WHO guidelines and national legislation relative to marketing of products for infants and children up to 36 months. Most of the incidents related to promotions on traditional and online media; promotions at physical and online retailers; and the product labels (e.g., contained promotional messages, omission of warnings, etc.). 

Westat recommendations suggest that baby food manufacturers strengthen corporate marketing policies and that the Government tighten approval for promotions, restrict the use of digital media for promoting products and contacting mothers, and strengthen its regulations relevant to the WHO guidelines.

Read the final report: National Assessment on the Compliance with the Code and the National Measures—Philippines Report (PDF)

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