Are you paying too much? Kate Quilton on the formula milk 'scandal' parents are totally unaware of

18th Mar 19 | Lifestyle

The TV presenter and mum-of-one chatted to Lauren Taylor ahead of The Great Formula Milk Scandal: Channel 4 Dispatches.

The Great Formula Milk Scandal: Dispatches

Millions of parents buy formula milk to use instead of, alongside, or as a follow-on, to breastfeeding. But tonight, Channel 4 Dispatches will reveal that many people are paying a ‘needless premium’ for some brands that experts say offer the same benefits as cheaper supermarket own brands.

Mum-of-one Kate Quilton presents the show, looking at how the global £40 billion industry is peddling what she says is”biased” information through advertising, and is profiting off mums and dads who are unaware that formula milks “are all nutritionally equivalent” – even if they vary in price.

“When you’re a parent, if there is the promise of anything out there that’s going to help your baby in any way, or be better for them than the alternative, then you will go for it, even if it’s more expensive,” says Quilton. “A lot of mums say, ‘I want the best for my baby, and if this formula milk on the shelf is two or three times more expensive than the supermarket own, it must be better, otherwise why can you even justify that price hike?'”

The Great Formula Milk Scandal: Dispatches
Quilton and some of the mums and babies that took part in the show (Channel 4/PA)

But Dispatches finds that Sainsbury’s Little Ones formula costs £175.99 for six months of formula, while the same amount of money only buys three and half months of SMA Pro First Formula and two and a half months of Aptamil Profutura Stage 1. They found pre-mixed bottles of Aptamil Profutura cost £789.31 for six months of use.

Quilton says: “It’s pretty shocking how we met a lot of mums who were just absolutely gobsmacked that they’d been spending two or three times what they really needed to on formula.”

For many people, that difference in price has a huge impact. “We met one mum called Hayley, with a beautiful baby called Lunar, who’s managing to feed her family on £100 a month. She’s on the breadline, so for her to buy box formula for £10 or £11, that’s a huge chunk of her grocery budget.”

Shel Banks, an infant feeding specialist who advises the NHS on some of their guidelines, says: “So all we actually need in the first 12 months of life, according to our NHS [and] according to the World Health Organisation, is just the first stage infant milks. So these first infant milks – these are all nutritionally equivalent.

“There are very clear European Food Standards Agency guidelines on the maximum and minimum levels of everything: The proteins, the fats, the carbohydrates. There’s nothing to choose between them, to pick one over another in terms of nutrition at all.”

The NHS recommends babies are breastfed for the first six months of their lives, and advertising rules since the 1980s have meant companies are banned from advertising ‘first infant formula’ – but you’ll have noticed plenty on TV for ‘follow-on milk’, intended to be used after six months, a new tactic Quilton says is to “get around legislation”.

Dispatches looks into the claims made my some formula milk companies that some products can help with certain ailments, like a baby’s colic, constipation or reflux. “We speak to a paediatrician in the NHS about these ‘specialist’ milks and she’s very clear they shouldn’t be on the supermarket shelves,” says Quilton. “These milks are expensive, but there’s no evidence to support that they work at all.”

As a result of the investigation, the British Medical Journal says they will no longer accept formula milk adverts.

The programme also conducted the largest ever analysis of formula influence within the NHS, and found that since 2014, almost a third of 195 clinical commissioning groups in England had recorded a breach of the World Health Organisation guidance.

Paediatrician Professor Anthony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organisation, says: “It’s outrageous. If you’re a company and you want to promote your products, you want to reach the people who are most influential. So that will be paediatricians, it will be dietitians, it will be nurses, midwives, health visitors – companies are now right in the NHS, and that is extremely worrying.

“More worrying, it’s almost co-branding themselves with the NHS and they’re essentially advertising their products, it’s quite confusing for the health workers. “

Quilton says: “Feeding your baby is an incredibly emotive topic. And mums and dads should be free to make their choice on how they feed their babies, but in order to do that, they need unbiased facts and they don’t need any added confusion thrown in by formula companies’ marketing.”

The presenter is still breastfeeding her 10-month-old son but says: “There’s an endless battle that rolls on between breastfeeding versus formula, and ultimately mums just need to make the right choice for them, but have the facts available to them so they can make that decision.”

The Great Formula Milk Scandal: Channel 4 Dispatches, airs Monday, March 18, on Channel 4 at 8pm.

© Press Association 2019