Monday, July 21, 2014

On Celebrities Endorsing Milk and Our War Against Underhanded Marketing Strategies by Milk Companies

This may very well be a loooong post and yes, biased FOR breastfeeding. Hopefully though, this will explain why breastfeeding advocates are against celebrities (and by this, I mean politicians, TV/movie/ad/music/sports personalities, anybody else famous or with name recall, etc) endorsing milk as a strategy employed by milk companies.

As a backgrounder, a popular celebrity family recently posted that they are giving away a year's supply of powdered milk (their firstborn's milk) for some contest (I think) which greatly saddened breastfeeding advocates. Here are the thoughts that ran through my head while I was feeling frustrated over this:

follow-on milk / toddler milk / preschooler milk/ adult milk is unnecessary

I swear, it is a fact. Nowhere in the existence of man was it necessary for humans to be dependent on milk beyond infancy (which ends when babies hit 1 year old) for nourishment. But yes, the worldwide average for weaning is closer to age 4, mainly because that is also the time a human being stops making lactase, the enzyme that digests the lactose in milk. Toddlers also benefit from the  antibodies and probiotic in their momma's milk as they explore more of this world. 

But here's a crash course for you. When the Americans came (you know, that time in our history when they colluded with Spain and drew up a mock battle but actually bought the Philippines for around 20 million dollars? Remember now?), they wanted to create a market for their goods. One thing they brought in was formula. And since Filipinos are very accommodating, we gobbled their "wisdom" up that formula is superior milk. 

Fast forward to now, the Milk Code has regulated commercials of formula/milk for kids 3 years and below. Unfortunately, in the hundred years it has been sold here, milk companies are now earning at least P40B yearly. Yes, we made for a lucrative market. From a culture where breastfeeding was the norm, even for toddlers, we became milk guzzlers instead. What is worse, there is now that prevalent thinking among the common folk that formula milk is better and "only the poor" nurse their own babies.

But the fact is, what humans need for life is CALCIUM, not milk. And as much as milk companies say their products provide calcium, the truth really is the cow's milk (where these products are mostly derived from) leeches off calcium from our bones. Why? Because it is meant for calves! It just becomes this acidic mess in our guts. And the pasteurization that strips it of bacteria also removes the enzymes which will allow humans to digest it.Unfortunately, pasteurization does not remove the hormones fed to cows that were milked for our powdered milk. 

So, again... what is a formula company to do if it cannot advertise for their formula? Create follow-on milk instead. Now, they have toddler milk, preschool milk, regular milk, pregnant mom's milk and milk for old people. The milk companies created a DEMAND for it by putting the idea across that we need it.

But WE DON'T! 

We need calcium! 

But their powdered milk is fortified with Iron! Of course, because drinking cow's milk makes a person iron deficient. How? It causes micro bleeding in the gut (because we are digesting food that is meant for a 4-compartment stomach) and interferes with iron absorption. 

In other words, parents giving their very young kids milk are contributing to potential anemia and lactose intolerance for them. 

Some studies already suggest that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers who drink milk/take in other allergenic food while pregnant/breastfeeding increase the chances of their babies developing skin allergies. And yet, more and more OBs are prescribing formula milk for mamas

But how many of the educated population know of this truth about milk? And how many of the marginalized?

do the Math!

A P40B (and more) industry spends around P1B to market its products yearly. Marketing includes giving away samples, wooing doctors (who will give away the free samples OR prescribe the products), paying for print and TV ads.

Meanwhile, as per Milk Code, breastfeeding groups are limited in who they can approach to sponsor breastfeeding classes and events. Breastfeeding does not provide livelihood (except for Nanay Ines' Arugaan community of wet nurses and massage therapists) and will certainly not make anyone rich. 

enter the celebrity endorsers and strategists in milk companies

Milk companies often target celebrity endorsers with a child who is still more likely breasfeeding. Why else would they have gotten Judy Ann Santos and Claudine Baretto before to promote preschooler milk after  these celebs just had babies? I mean, surely, these celebs' adopted kids were already capable of drinking milk even before there were babies in the house. But no, let us wait until they've just given birth a few months before. Right?

Why would they approach Gladys Reyes, of the "thank God I was breastfeeding because we were stuck in our terrace/rooftop during Ondoy" fame to endorse preschooler milk while she also had an infant (and breastfed child during Ondoy is now the one supposed to THRIVE on powdered milk)? 

Why would they approach a family with some 2 million followers on FB, a source of inspiration to so many people, to hold a contest and provide a year's supply of the powdered milk their firstborn drinks (which is a potential Milk Code violation)?

Oh and have you noticed how they present their commercials for these follow-on milk? 

Child isn't eating right, but fortunately there's this powdered milk that gives all the nutrients listed in the food pyramid. 

Child is thriving, and fortunately there is this powdered milk that helps meet his needs. 

You are being prepped to buy either way. But again, do they tell you that the milk they advertise also compromises your child's health? Do you see or hear somewhere in the ad that this milk may worsen the common cold because it is mucus-forming and that cow's milk is top on the list of highly allergenic food? No?

now, let's do better, pro-Filipino Math

Let us say a celebrity endorser gets paid a million pesos (at least) for a milk ad. That buys them what? A trip abroad? A home extension? More money to invest? New clothes? 

Now, let's assume that because she is a celebrity, she can influence people's choices. Follow-on milk will cost a middle-income family between P2,000-3,000 monthly. That is about one to two weeks' worth of wet market allowance for my family of five (this includes our helper, and yes, we generally eat healthy so that is mostly for fish and veggies). That means, for middle income families, money that can be used for the rest of the family is just being used for one. Or, money that can be saved instead is being used on milk alone. And if there is an infant, money that can be used for that infant't vaccinations is being used to buy milk for the older sibling. 

See how it can be a recipe for poverty?

Meanwhile, for already struggling families, shooting for follow-on milk for a child may be suicide. But it happens. Instead of JUST feeding a child cooked food, they will prepare milk no matter how diluted, or break their backs to earn money to buy milk (leading to compromised health). More unfortunately, the marginalized do not think past the celebrity and milk and hype. They do not note that this is follow-on milk NOT MEANT for infants, all they hear is the jazz (intelligence! strong bones! edge! etc ). And since such is a recipe for diarrhea and malnutrition, how do we compute the cost now?

And what does the milk sales bring milk companies? New cars, condos, buildings and businesses for their main stakeholders.

But don't milk companies employ Filipinos? Yes, they do :)  Let's say around 2,000 families are benefited by salaries and free milk. And I am pretty sure those families feel grateful for the employment. Thus, shouldn't our government be indebted to them? Uhmmm... not really since there are 16,000 deaths annually that can be traced to wrongful formula feeding and diseases directly addressed by breastfeeding. Click here for other costs of formula feeding (just in case you want to add in your computation the funeral costs for those 16,000 deaths). Please also try computing the cost for sick leaves for when mothers have to care for sick kids. Trips to an allergist takes all day, after all. And gastric episodes mean long days AND nights. 

I don't know about you but I will never think 16,000 deaths YEARLY  is a price worth paying to keep 2,000 families happy. 

some more reality check, please

Celebrities are generally RICH already by a regular man's standards. Most of them breastfeed even because they are educated enough to know of the benefits.When their children gets sick, they can afford the best doctors, the best treatments, the best supplements. They can afford organic food. They can afford nutritionists if need be. They can afford the best schools, the best tutors, the best learning systems to ensure smart kids. 

And some of them do not even really use the products they endorse. Ssshhh. 

But us mere mortals, we are lucky if we have an HMO for checkups and emergency hospitalizations. And the poor? Why, good luck if they even get a turn at the nebulizer in a government hospital when they are having an asthma attack. 

with great power comes great responsibility

While we cannot take away a celebrity's right to want to earn a living, and sell whatever they can for a brighter future (and in this, I mean name, reputation, service, etc)... we advocates also cannot help but wish that more of them will think of the repercussions of their actions because nothing ends after the shoot and the ad is shown. The damage happens after, in areas they will never even dream of going to, to families they will never meet. 

When a celebrity says that she is giving her picky eater milk to keep him healthy, parents in other homes do the same, instead of improving their discipline and training their child to eat healthy.

When a celebrity says that all her kid wants is junk food (and since she allows it, it must be okay) so giving milk at least makes her child healthy, other parents do the same... instead of again, keeping junk food out of the home.

When celebrities promote a brand, their fans do not see them as entrepreneurs earning big bucks for said ad but as the beloved character they loved and supported. 

a choice based on lies cannot be an informed choice

There are enough documentary videos and interviews that point to milk ads for turning breastfeeding families into mix feeding and purely formula feeding families. There are enough commercials that have swayed families into continuing to give milk to kids, some of whom have yayas outside their schoolrooms to prepare milk in feeding bottles! Mothers and in-laws will even recommend/impose certain brands because their idols "said" it makes for better brain development or stronger builds.

These choices are based on lies. And because these aren't informed choices, breastfeeding advocates cannot honor them by staying quiet while more families get financially and health compromised.

I posted this as comment on Breastfeeding Pinay:  If you are educated, think for yourself and have options (by virtue of income and connections) then be grateful that you aren't part of the 60-70% of the population who cannot make the same informed choices that you can. And it is the marginalized and ignorant WE (advocates) are protecting and giving a voice to, which will also mean that we will forever frown over such practices.

breastfeeding is not just a feeding issue, it is a public health issue
I will admit, a judgmental part of me wonders how these celebrities can sleep at night :D  (Because I am already assuming the milk companies to be purely motivated by earnings)

I was reminded by a friend that not everyone are like us. That translates to so many things.

Not all these moms know what we know. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.They may still be really nice people but they also might not care as much as we do for the things that we do care about... like child health, and maternal health and the environment. After all, not all of us are meant to further breastfeeding advocacy. Some will build NGOs for education, some will help pastor families, some will help in drug rehab. 
They may be religious but not fully realize that they can effect better change.

But most probably, they, like most of the population, think of breastfeeding as JUST a feeding issue. So, they think of formula and follow-on milk as JUST modern options to feeding a baby/child. They do not see that unless it is medically necessary, formula and follow-on milk do more harm than good. They see milk as something that is purely ingested and nourishes now, and not something that stays in a person to give them allergy and cancer protection (in the case of breastfed toddlers) or increase their risks for diabetes (for children under 5 drinking cow's milk). 

But you, if you have stayed with me down to here... I hope now you know better. And will understand why we cannot support celebrities endorsing milk and fume over the companies that pay them exorbitant amounts they cannot ignore. Formula has its place in the great scheme of things. Follow-on milk? Not so much. Good, locally-produced food is better. And in the fight FOR PUBLIC HEALTH, I wish more celebrities will use their influence for the greater good. 

*~* Meanwhile... inviting you all to these events!!!



Bing said...

Well said Mec!

Unknown said...

worth the read, Kudos Mec!

Anonymous said...

very well said mommy mec i was also devastated when i saw the family picture, it really saddens me.

Mel's Hidden Passions said...

If the government would mandate breastfeeding like in some other countries, it will be much more better and we will no longer worry on FM mania.
My OB also recommends NO MILK for me which made me, my family and friends ask, REALLY?!!! (with 1 eyebrow raised)... Well, I just follow my OB's advise without knowing the reason behind, I just know I will gain weight if I do so. I am on my 6th month now for my first child and I've read a lot of pains in breastfeeding which made me scared to do so when my baby is out... My friend invited me to join the breastfeeding Pinays and it changed my perspective and this post made me more determine to do breastfeeding no matter how painful it will be. Thank you for this post, this is really an eye opener.

Anonymous said...

this is very informative and very helpful. especially the way it looks into the details as well as into the bigger picture.
please please keep up the good work!

sixteen_424 said...

Everything was extensively explained. Thank you for this, you are doing the universe a big favor :)

Al Mondz said...

Hi Mec! Thank you for writing this very looooong post! It has all the things moms and the public need. Please allow me to add this to my notes and share to my account as well. Thank you! :)

Ruby said...

I agree, most of these celebrities do not really use the products they endorse. I know most of them really breastfeed their children, so it's really saddening that they endorse formula milk. They just worry about their own kids and do not mind the other thousand babies and kids whose parents are not as informed and look up to them. Please allow me to share this on my wall.

Anonymous said...

Who is the celebrity family?

Mec said...

Thanks for leaving comments :)

I was informed that some joining that family's contest are posing with pictures of infants... And one is just pregnant. Yet, they are joining a contest to win a year's supply of milk for 4-6 year olds.

Now, doesn't that just really tell you
1) what people would do for exposure and
2) how little people care about formula/powdered milk distinctions?

And this, not even from marginalized people ha! What more yung effect of celeb ads talaga to the poor!

sixteen_424 said...

And mind you, kaka announce lang ng winner. Sobrang glorified... it's alarming!

Mec said...

Btw... Ruby, yes, please feel free to share :) it would be my privilege if many gets to read this and become more aware

Unknown said...

nice ate mec ..,nakaka enlighten