Public Seminars: An unprecedented global infant and young child feeding transition appears to be underway. What’s driving it? What can be done about it?

infant milk formula
Photo by European Parliament

Date & time

12.30–1.30pm 24 August 2016


Seminar Room 1.04, Coombs Extension Building (8), Fellows Road, ANU, Canberra


Phillip Baker, School of Regulation and Global Governance, ANU
Julie Smith, School of Regulation and Global Governance, ANU


 Janice Lee
 +61 2 6125 6037

In this public seminar by Dr Phillip Baker and Associate Professor Julie Smith, they will discuss their latest publication describing the recent infant formula milk sales trends and patterns at the global, regional and national levels.


The United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Nutrition Targets recently committed governments to improving breastfeeding rates. This is given specific focus by the WHO’s Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal and Child Nutrition which sets global targets for increasing exclusive breastfeeding of children under six months of age.

The use of commercial milk-based formulas undermines optimal breastfeeding and is likely to impede progress towards these international commitments. Yet little is known about trends and patterns of global formula consumption. Our recent study published in Public Health Nutrition describes recent formula sales trends and patterns (our proxy for consumption) at the global, regional and national levels. In contrast to stable trends in global breastfeeding measures we found that global formula sales increased by 40.8% from 5.5 to 7.8kg per infant/child between 2008 and 2013. This figure is expected to increase to 10.8 kg by 2018. This 'sales boom' applies not only to infant formula (for ages 0-6 months) but also to follow-up (6-12 months) and toddler (12-36 months) formulas. China, Vietnam, and Indonesia – countries that have undergone rapid industrialisation and large-scale feminisation of their workforces – have experienced the most significant growth. This indicates that a global infant and young child feeding transition is not only underway but is expected to continue apace. Although this is not a new phenomenon, our results suggest that the scale and rapidity of these contemporary changes is unprecedented.  

Nevertheless, we found significant sales variations between countries at similar levels of development suggesting an important role for policy and regulatory factors in shaping formula consumption patterns. These include policies liberalising trade and investment, policy support for domestic formula industries as well as country-level implementation of global initiatives to protect, support and promote breastfeeding such as the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding (such as health services and maternity protection measures), and in particular the WHO International Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes.

About the Speakers

Dr Phillip Baker

Dr Baker is a Research Fellow at the School of Regulation and Global Governance at the Australian National University (ANU). His work focuses on understanding political priority for nutrition, global nutrition epidemiology, the social determinants of health, and the political economy of public health. He has a PhD from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU. He is currently working within the Centre for Research Excellence on the Social Determinants of Health Equity.

Associate Professor Julie Smith

Dr Julie Smith is an Associate Professor and economist at the Australian National University (ANU), and holds an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship for her research on the economic valuation of breastfeeding, and the regulation of markets in mothers’ milk. Her publications in public health, paediatrics, public health nutrition, feminist and labour economics journals include studies on the economic value of breastfeeding, health costs of formula feeding, time use studies of breastfeeding, and on breastfeeding, work and childcare. She led a WHO study on commercial baby food marketing in 2015, and has advised on the economics of breastfeeding for the US Surgeon General’s 2011 Call to Action on Breastfeeding, for the Australian Parliament’s Best Start Inquiry on Breastfeeding, and for the WHO/UNICEF Western Pacific 2007 Regional Consultation on Breastfeeding. She served as a board Director for the Australian Breastfeeding Association from 2002 to 2011.

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