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Mortality from Nestle's Marketing of Infant Formula in Low and Middle-Income Countries

NBER2018.06.14

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Intensive and controversial marketing of infant formula is believed to be responsible for millions of infant deaths in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), yet to date there have been no rigorous analyses that quantify these effects. To estimate the impact of infant formula on infant mortality, we pair country-specific data from the annual corporate reports of Nestl?, the largest producer of infant formula, with a sample of 2.48 million births in 46 LMICs from 1970-2011. Our key finding is that the availability of formula increased infant mortality by 9.4 per 1000 births, 95%CI [3.6, 15.6] among mothers without access to clean water, suggesting that unclean water acted as a vector for the transmission of water-borne pathogens to infants. We estimate that the availability of formula in LIMCs resulted in approximately 66,000 infant deaths in 1981 at the peak of the infant formula controversy.

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