Public Health Nutrition

Marketing and Communication

The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes: lessons learned and implications for the regulation of marketing of foods and beverages to children

Chessa K Lutter 

Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, 525 23rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20037-2895, USA


Objective To identify lessons learned from 30 years of implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (‘the Code’) and identify lessons learned for the regulation of marketing foods and beverages to children.

Design Historical analysis of 30 years of implementing the Code.

Setting Latin America and the Caribbean.

Subjects None.

Results Legislation to restrict marketing of breast-milk substitutes is necessary but not sufficient; equally important are the promulgation of implementing regulations, effective enforcement and public monitoring of compliance. A system of funding for regular monitoring of compliance with legislation should be explicitly developed and funded from the beginning. Economic sanctions, while important, are likely to be less effective than reports that affect a company's public image negatively. Non-governmental organizations play a critical role in leveraging public opinion and galvanizing consumer pressure to ensure that governments adopt regulations and companies adhere to them. Continual clinical, epidemiological and policy research showing the link between marketing and health outcomes and between policy and better health is essential.

Conclusions Implementation of the Code has not come easily as it places the interests of underfinanced national governments and international and non-governmental organizations promoting breast-feeding against those of multinational corporations that make hundreds of millions of dollars annually marketing infant formulas. Efforts to protect, promote and support breast-feeding have been successful with indicators of breast-feeding practices increasing globally. The lessons learned can inform current efforts to regulate the marketing of foods and beverages to children.

(Received November 10 2011)

(Revised May 10 2012)

(Accepted July 04 2012)

(Online publication October 04 2012)


  • Breast-feeding;
  • Marketing;
  • Regulation;
  • Child


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