Industry influence and overdiagnosis of cow milk protein allergy

Writing in this week’s British Medical Journal, Dr Chris van Tulleken examines the links between medical education and the formula industry. Milk banks are increasingly on the front line of the rising wave of cow milk protein allergy (CMPA). Increasing numbers of mothers contact the Hearts Milk Bank each week wanting to donate stored milk they have been advised they can no longer give to their babies after a diagnosis of allergy. Many are going through strict exclusion diets in the hope of continuing to breastfeed. We ask that they keep some or all of their milk so that they can start re-introducing it as the first step of the ‘milk ladder’, and support each family in the most appropriate way.

Increasingly, we also receive calls from mothers seeking donor milk when they have stopped breastfeeding and their babies are not tolerating hydrolysed formulas. Sadly, we cannot guarantee any donor milk we receive does not contain cow milk antibodies and so cannot help in these cases.

This article makes for devastating reading that, although some babies have true allergies and this number appears to be rising, the explosion in CMPA diagnosis may in part be due to the influence of formula-funded medical education and parent-targeted online information.

The bottom line is that the decisions and advice of clinicians should never be influenced by industry-sponsored training courses, materials or websites. Our charity aims to work to produce evidence-based resources for doctors in training. Please contact info@humanmilkfoundation.org if you would like to be involved.

You can hear more about the controversial marketing practices of formula industry on this BMJ podcast.

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