World Vision has released a report highlighting the impact of social media on the growth of infant formula sales, as an alternative to breastfeeding. The international NGO claims that there is a loophole in Article 13 of Sub-Decree No133, which deals with violations of the code of conduct for online business practices.

The October 8 report said digital media has been extensively used to market breast milk substitutes, often through Facebook ads focusing on individuals with blogs or vlogs, online magazines and discounts.

According to the sub-decree, the marketing of breast milk substitutes is prohibited at hospitals, health centres and clinics. Analysis by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and other institutions showed that the sub-decree did not detail a ban on social media advertising.

Phan Oun, head of the Consumer Protection, Competition and Fraud Repression Directorate-General (CCF), on October 8 said the CCF’s position is that any trader or vendor who promotes a product in a way that created unrealistic expectations in consumers will be summoned to explain themselves.

Sometimes the CCF does not receive information about such online advertising. If they receive complaints from consumers, then action will be taken on questionable content.

“If a mother uses some of these products without doing her own research, it could result in her children missing out on several essential nutrients. Some members of the public are too quick to believe the claims made by unscrupulous advertisers. In addition, they are sometimes tempted by very low prices,” he said.

“Consumers should be wary of the claims of advertisers. If the details of a product are not clear, they should check with the authorities to learn if it is safe,” he added.

Meas Sa Im, deputy director of women and children’s rights at rights group ADHOC, said it is the right of dairy companies to advertise, but they must take into account the health of mothers and babies as well as the next generation. Many studies have shown that breast milk has wide benefits for children and helps improve the health of breastfeeding mothers as well.

“I think that if advertisers think about the nation, the best interests of children and the health of mothers and babies, they would advertise only what is ethical and do not exaggerate their claims. Breastfeeding should be encouraged instead of substitutes,” she said.

She suggested that relevant state institutions have more control over advertising to ensure that false claims do not affect the health of children, now and in the future.

According to a 2022 WHO report, Cambodia is one of the countries where the use of social media influencers to promote breast milk substitutes is most common. Many videos about the lives of influential celebrities are shared on social media.

Engaging a brand of product with influencers is effective in promoting products, it said, as consumers are more likely to adopt beliefs, attitudes and behaviours when they believe they and the influencers share values and the same characteristics.

The percentage of children in the Kingdom who were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives has decreased from 74 per cent in 2010 to 51 per cent in 2021, according to the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS) 2010-2021.