A mother shopping at Tescos in the UK was refused a free parking voucher because she was buying infant formula. If she had been buying beer or doughnuts or baby shampoo or almost any other product, she would have received the voucher. Only cigarettes and infant formula were excluded from the voucher program, in accordance with EU regulations which forbid the advertising and promotion of those products.
Laura Leeks felt shamed and guilt-tripped by the staff at Tescos and felt the need to explain the reasons why she was formula feeding rather than breastfeeding in a detailed personal account on their Facebook page. I hope Tescos listens to her and changes their policies. Giving parking vouchers for any product does not seem like promotion of particular products and an overly strict application of the regulation.
I saw the opposite of this a few weeks ago in Peru. Marketers for Pediasure, a product from the US company Abbott, came through the waiting rooms of the paediatric section of the hospital, where mothers were waiting for their infant check-ups, handing out leaflets and balloons for children. Their leaflet explained that Pediasure would help children grow taller! Two centimetres every 120 days!
These promises were based on a research paper, cited on the back of the leaflet. The research paper was produced by employees of Abbott. They recruited 200 children in Manila, chosen specially because they were small and thin for their age. At baseline, most of them were eating less than the recommended daily calorie intake. Then, the Abbott employees gave the parents free formula and asked them to feed it to their children every day, boosting their diets by 450 kcal every day for a year.
Turns out, giving underfed children extra calories makes them grow slightly bigger! The weight for height percentiles of their sample averaged 16% at baseline (very thin) and 30% at the end (thin). Height for age percentiles averaged 14% at the beginning (small for their age) and 17% at the end (small for their age), a negligible difference.
How would those results compare to giving those children calories from another source – say, fresh food – for a year? We will never know. Obviously, Abbott employees have no interest in making such a comparison.
So yeah. Let’s restrict the marketing opportunities of these sorts of companies. I’m sorry that Laura Leeks and other EU mothers got shamed though.