HALF is Wholly Wrong from the Start: An Open Letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics
To the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the AAP Representatives from the Healthy Active Living for Families Initiative:
I find this corporate partnership particularly troubling considering that the HALF Project’s goal is to:
develop and test a series of positive, family-focused messages specific to obesity prevention and care for the following developmental stages: infancy, toddlerhood, and early childhood/preschoolers, which can be used at pediatric well-child visits.
Taking into account 1) Nestlé’s unethical business practices, 2) its aggressive and misleading marketing of infant formula and toddler and preschooler meals, and 3) the high sugar and sodium content of many of the child and family-targeted Nestlé brand foods, it does not seem that Nestlé’s products and practices align with the goals of the HALF Project.
In fact, it seems abundantly clear that Nestlé’s products and practices are antithetical not only to the HALF Project but also to many of the other practices and policies that the AAP promotes.
For one, Nestlé’s aggressive formula marketing undermines breastfeeding. And as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), breastfeeding (and especially early exclusive breastfeeding) is associated with a reduced odds of child obesity.
The problem is not that Nestlé makes infant formula. The problem isn’t even so much that parents choose (or in some cases, need) to feed their babies formula.
The problem is that Nestlé markets their formula in the United States and elsewhere in a way that is aggressively mendacious and misleading. This sort of marketing undermines breastfeeding, and it undermines one of the steps that parents can take to help prevent childhood obesity.
In fact, these marketing efforts even violate the AAP’s own Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. For contained within this statement are a list of “obstacles to initiation and continuation of breastfeeding,” including (but not limited to):
…media portrayal of bottle feeding as normative; commercial promotion of infant formula through distribution of hospital discharge packs, coupons for free or discounted formula, and some television and general magazine advertising.
This statement also encourages pediatricians and other health care professionals to:
Work actively toward eliminating hospital policies and practices that discourage breastfeeding (eg, promotion of infant formula in hospitals including infant formula discharge packs and formula discount coupons, separation of mother and infant, inappropriate infant feeding images, and lack of adequate encouragement and support of breastfeeding by all health care staff).
Nestlé does little to remove these breastfeeding obstacles in their own marketing campaigns.
In fact, the website for the Nestlé brand, Gerber, includes a promotion for a “FREE Gerber Generation Backpack” (which includes a free sample of Gerber Good Start infant formula). This promotion encourages parents to:
- Ask for your FREE Gerber Generation backpack when you deliver at a participating hospital.
- Print your gift certificate [for the sample backpack] to take with you to the hospital.
- Present your certificate to the nurse when Baby arrives to receive your FREE BACKPACK!
With just a single promotional page, Gerber not only offers up an “obstacle to the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding” but also engages in one of the very practices that the AAP recommends that health care professionals work to eliminate.
What’s perhaps even more disturbing (and ironic) about the AAP’s corporate partnership with the Nestlé on a project aimed at promoting healthy nutrition and preventing childhood obesity is that many of the Nestlé brand products aimed at infants, children, and families (including but not limited to Gerber Good Start infant formula, Gerber Graduates meals, Stouffer’s, and Buitoni) contain remarkably high levels of sugar and sodium. In fact, the sodium levels in the vast majority of Gerber Graduates brand preschooler meals are higher than that of a large order of McDonald’s french fries.
These are not the sorts of foods that the AAP recommends that families eat in order to prevent and respond to childhood obesity.
And they are not the sorts of foods that the AAP should be implicitly promoting through a corporate partnership.
In response to these concerns, I ask the AAP and its representatives working on the HALF Project to consider the following questions:
- Will the HALF Project promote breastfeeding in a way that is not only accurate and transparent but also socially and culturally sensitive?
- Will the HALF Project materials state unequivocally that processed foods (including but not limited to those produced by Nestlé brands such as Gerber, Stouffer’s, and Buitoni) and the associated aggressive marketing of these foods do more to undermine than to promote good nutrition and health?
- Will the HALF Project offer tips, resources, and information on how families can avoid processed foods and purchase and prepare more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and healthy proteins in ways that are still convenient and affordable?
- Will the HALF Project encourage media and marketing literacy skills to help parents identify and navigate aggressive and misleading formula and food marketing (such as those that offer false promises of a “healthy meal”)?
If the AAP cannot answer yes to all of these questions–particularly if the HALF Project’s association with Nestlé prevents the AAP from answering as such–then I fear that the project itself will be doing more to promote Nestlé than to promote the health of children in the United States.
Notably, I do understand that corporate partnerships can help to finance and sustain projects such as the HALF initiative. I realize that this is not the first time that Nestlé has donated money to an AAP initiative. I even realize that this is not the first time that a medical organization in the United States has partnered with an unlikely (and unseemly) corporate sponsor.
But Nestlé is not an appropriate partner for this project, nor is it an appropriate partner for the AAP.
I implore you to rethink your partnership with the Nestlé Nutrition Institute. Failing to do so may undermine not only the HALF Project itself but also the credibility of the entire American Academy of Pediatrics.
In the comments section, please feel free to “sign” your name in support of this letter!
I will also be sending a revised version of this letter to the offices of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and I plan to write an informative letter to my children’s pediatrician and to other local pediatricians.
Would you consider writing a letter to the AAP and (if applicable) posting it on your blog? Will you contact your children’s pediatrician about this issue? Please come back and share if you do!
And finally, many thanks to Annie from PhD in Parenting for remaining ever-vigilant in her efforts to expose the truth about Nestlé’s products and practices.