The majority of the health and nutritional claims made about the products, however, seem to be supported by little to no high-quality scientific evidence, according to a study.


Researchers’ findings that the majority of health claims made on formula milk products lack or have scant supporting data have prompted calls for more stringent marketing regulations to be implemented globally.

In what has grown to be a multibillion dollar global industry, millions of parents use formula milk. The majority of the health and nutritional claims made about the products, however, seem to be supported by little to no high-quality scientific evidence, according to a study published in the BMJ.

The study’s first co-authors, Dr. Ka Yan Cheung and Loukia Petrou, noted that many of the health and nutritional claims made by infant formula products lacked supporting evidence. When they are, the evidence is frequently flimsy and unfair.

Imperial College London professors Cheung and Petrou added: “Additionally, we discovered that some claims were connected to multiple ingredients and that many ingredients were connected to numerous claims. Instead of using ambiguous or unsupported claims as marketing strategies, the industry must provide consumers with accurate and trustworthy information.”

According to the study, marketers of formula milk are still using dubious claims to market their products despite restrictions on their use. It was discovered that regulations governing how the products are marketed to consumers “fail to effectively limit the use of claims in the marketing of breast milk substitutes.”

The study looked at formula products in 15 different nations and discovered that the majority of them contained at least one health or dietary claim. The authors emphasise how such claims are debatable and are outlawed in some nations.

In Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, the UK, and the US, they evaluated the marketing strategies used to promote the products.

The group looked at 814 different infant formula items. Each of the products had an average of two claims. The most frequent claim types, according to the researchers, were “helps or supports growth and development,” “strengthens or supports a healthy immune system,” and “helps or supports the development of the brain, eyes, or nervous system.”

According to the BMJ, 56% of references that were given reported findings from clinical trials, while the remainder were reviews, opinion pieces, or other types of research, including animal studies. 90% of statements that cited registered clinical trials had a high risk of bias, and only 14% of citations that made reference to them were prospectively registered.

88% of registered trials had authors who were either directly connected to the pharmaceutical industry or who had received funding from the industry stated by BMJ.

The authors noted that “multiple claims were made for the same ingredient type, multiple claims were made for the same ingredient to achieve similar health or nutritional effects, most products did not provide scientific references to support claims, and referenced claims were not supported by robust clinical trial evidence.”

The study found that there is a high prevalence of claims on infant formula products in multiple countries that have little or no scientific substantiation. This highlights the need for greater regulation and oversight to ensure that these claims are supported by sound scientific evidence and protect the health and wellbeing of the youngest and most vulnerable populations.