(Update: press release 22 September 2015: Nestle-sponsored paediatric society distances itself from corporation as it launches shocking first 1000 days campaign – our original blog article from 16 September responding to the Daily Mail report is archived below).
Update 25 February 2016: Research shows the messages people take from the Brazilian “your child is what you eat” campaign
Brazil is generally very good in promoting breastfeeding and ensuring marketing of breastmilk substitutes (formula) is appropriate. So why is a campaign reported in the Daily Mail this week (15 September 2015) undermining breastfeeding with scare tactics?
This campaign is attributed to the Paediatric Society of Rio Grande do Sul (SPRS) in Brazil (which is sponsored by Nestlé, though the Daily Mail does not mention this fact).
The advertisement states: “Your child is what you eat. Yours habits in the first thousand days of gestation can prevent your child from developing serious diseases. Learn more at sprs.com.br“ [sic: text on the English version of the advertisements shown on the Daily Mail and other websites. Larger versions here].
The Daily Mail report links the advertisements to a suggestion that good maternal diet can activate a gene that combats cancer, with the implication that if mothers eat hamburgers this may not be activated. Yet the Daily Mail report raises more questions than it answers.
While it links to the SPRS website (Sociedade de Pediatria do Rio Grande do Sul) and this is cited in the advertisement as the source of further information, nothing has been found about the campaign on the website. Our colleagues in Brazil say the campaign has not appeared there.
Why also would a Brazilian campaign have text in English, rather than Portuguese?
The claim “your child is what you eat” is also very simplistic. While the advertisements may worry some mothers into thinking they are better off using formula, formula is made from cow’s milk. Cow’s eat grass. So does that mean a formula-fed child is made of grass?
Nestlé sponsors events organised by SPRS, including the Rio Grande do Sul paediatric congress 2015. A full page advertisement for Nestlé’s infant formula appears in the society’s current journal (June 2015), claiming Nestlé’s infant formula is “THE BEST FOUNDATION FOR A HEALTHIER FUTURE” (“A MELHOR BASE PARA UM FUTURO MAIS SAUDÁVEL”).
Following the logic of the SPRS campaign, that healthy future is built on the grass the cows ate.
The Daily Mail says the campaign was created by the Brazilian advertising agency Paim. This is based in Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul and, according to the advertising press, the agency won the account for Nestlé’s advertising in the region in 2009. We have asked the agency questions about the background to the campaign and how it has been spread around the world.
There is, at present, little clarity about the involvement of the Brazilian Paediatric Society of Rio Grande do Sul or its sponsor Nestlé in this English-language advertising campaign.
However, in recent years Nestlé has hijacked the message of the importance of nutrition in the first 1000 days. Although WHO and other health advocates raise the importance of breastfeeding during the first two years of life and beyond, Nestlé tells investors its own first 1000 days strategy is about Nestlé product solutions.
While stating “breastfeeding is best” on the above slide, another slide in the presentation boasts Nestlé’s “gentle start” infant formula marketing campaign is a “growth engine” for sales.