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Formula manufacturers’ web sites: are they really non‐compliant advertisements?

Barrie Gunter (Media and Communication, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)
Roger Dickinson (Media and Communication, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)
Julian Matthews (Media and Communication, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)
Jennifer Cole (Media and Communication, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 1 January 2013




In the UK, advertising of infant formula products direct to consumers is not permitted. These products must be used on the recommendation of suitably qualified health or medical professionals. The aim of this study is to examine formula manufacturers’ web sites to ascertain whether these are used as alternative forms of advertising that fall outside current regulations.


The web sites of five leading formula product manufacturers were surveyed in 2009 and again in 2012 as part of a wider assessment of infant and follow‐on formula advertising and presentation. These sites were assessed for the presence of text and images they contained relating to infant formula products that may not be directly advertised to consumers under current regulations.


Although not technically classified as “advertisements” all these web sites were found to contain formula product information that could be construed as promotional in nature in 2009. By 2012, this was true of just two of these sites. Infant formula product promotions occurred adjacent to ones for follow‐on formula products. The recommendations and warnings concerning use of infant formula that are statutorily required for advertising in the UK were present on these web sites.

Practical implications

Formula manufacturers use their web sites to promote infant formula products and do so alongside follow‐on formula products. These sites provide a promotional opportunity through which to gain access to consumers that is legally denied to infant formula manufacturers through advertising. The findings have significance in the context of other research showing that consumers have been found to mis‐recall follow‐on formula advertising messages as applying to infant formula products.


This analysis formed part of the most extensive study of formula product advertising and presentation undertaken so far. It represented the first attempt to provide a comprehensive audit of the ways formula manufacturers promote their products in the UK.



Gunter, B., Dickinson, R., Matthews, J. and Cole, J. (2013), "Formula manufacturers’ web sites: are they really non‐compliant advertisements?", Health Education, Vol. 113 No. 1, pp. 18-27.



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