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close this bookExploding the Hunger Myths - High School Curriculum (FF, 1987, 173 p.)
close this folderLesson 5: Rich world, poor world?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentActivity 1: Life on the farm
View the documentActivity 2: Selling food
View the documentActivity 3: Who suffers, who benefits?

Activity 2: Selling food

Students will look at how advertising affects food-buying in both underdeveloped countries and developed countries.


· To read about and discuss the effects of infant formula advertising in third world countries
· To describe why advertising is so powerful
· To conduct a media watch on food advertising in the United States and analyze the messages received
· To compare the effects of advertising in the third world to the effects in the United States
· To prepare a class presentation about food advertising
· To devise positive roles for advertising


· Student handouts: Babies at Risk Media Watch
· Posterboard or newsprint paper
· Markers

Thirty minutes to one hour for the teacher's introduction, one hour in class and two or more hours of outside work for the activities, and two hours for class presentations


Written or oral answers to study questions, class presentation


infant formula, advertising

Selling food


1. Discuss with students how this activity compares the lives of consumers in developed and underdeveloped countries.

2. After giving a general introduction using information from the teacher background section, hand out Babies at Risk and Media Watch.

3. Assign students to read Babies at Risk and to complete the questions included.

4. Give students a short amount of in-class time to discuss their reactions to the reading and their answers to the questions.

5. Have students complete the Media Watch table.

6. When students have completed the table, have them discuss the questions and compare the infant formula situation with that of food advertising in the United States.

7. Help students prepare a class presentation. Ideas are included on the handouts.

8. Schedule class time for presentations.

9. Wrap up by asking students to list as many similarities as they can between consumers in underdeveloped countries and consumers in developed countries, especially the ways their food purchases are affected by advertising.



· Diet for a Small Planet (book), by Frances Moore LappR>· Eat Your Heart Out: How Food Profiteers Victimize the Consumer (book), by Jim Hightower
· Nutrition Action (periodical), Center for Science in the Public Interest


Students can join organized boycotts of food products and corporations that use false or misleading advertising.

· Cooperative Trading (newsletter), Cooperative Trading/Friends of the Third World
· INFACT (organization)
· Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (organization)
· National Boycott News (periodical)
· United Farm Workers (organization)

Babies at risk

Have you ever bought something that you really didn't need or want until you saw an advertisement? Have you thought about what made you buy it? This project examines how people are influenced in their food buying.

The first reading concerns baby formula marketing in various countries. Please read it and discuss the study questions within your group.

One example of advertising and its tragic results is the marketing of infant formula in underdeveloped countries. For the past fifty years people have been able to buy a manufactured substitute for mother's milk. This product, infant formula, can be fed to a baby from a bottle. There are many differences between breast milk and infant formula.

Babies at risk

Breast milk is fresh, unprocessed, and uncontaminated by bacteria in the environment since it goes directly from mother to baby. A mother's first milk, colostrum, is rich in digestive enzymes and antibodies (anti-infection substances) that the mother's body has made for the baby. For this reason, breast-fed babies are protected from many digestive problems and infections while they are nursing. Infant formula is made from cow's milk that has been heated, sweetened, and fortified with some vitamins. It does not contain the enzymes and antibodies of breast milk.

About 95 percent of mothers are physically able to breast-feed their infants, but many parents bottle-feed their babies because it is convenient. Bottle-feeding makes it possible for a father, other relative, friend, or daycare person to give a bottle. It may be difficult for mothers to breast-feed if they work outside the home.

When a new mother starts using formula, her milk flow is reduced. She becomes more and more dependent on purchased products and cannot easily go back to breast-feeding. Using formula also reduces the length of time a woman produces milk.

In the 1950s and 1960s, most women in the United States did not breast-feed. As education about the advantages of breast-feeding became available, more women began breast-feeding their infants. As mothers in industrialized countries returned to breast-feeding their babies, the companies that produced formula needed a new market for their product. They began to sell their product in underdeveloped countries. These companies (called transnationals because they market across national borders) had to use aggressive advertising and promotions to create a demand for their product.

Using infant formula is a luxury many poor families cannot afford. For the average worker in the third world, purchasing formula for one baby would use 40 to 60 percent of the family's budget, leaving other family members hungry. Formula is often watered down to insure that the powder or concentrate lasts longer. So babies can easily become undernourished.

Infant formula requires careful preparation, clean bottles, and access to clean water. In many countries, fewer than 10 percent of the people have access to clean water. People who do not have refrigerators have to leave prepared formula out in warm temperatures, where the formula becomes a breeding ground for infection-causing bacteria. Fuel for heating and sterilizing the bottles is often scarce, so dirty bottles have to be used. Instructions for preparing formula may be unclear, complicated, or in a foreign language.

Health organizations all over the world have described how millions of babies have become sick with infections or starved to death because of infant formula.

So how are people in underdeveloped countries stimulated to buy infant formula? Advertising is used to appeal to parents' desire to give their babies the best they can. Poor parents may see baby formula as one advantage they can afford to buy for their children. Giveaways, radio jingles, and billboards give the message that the modern, caring mother bottle-feeds her baby. Pictures of chubby, laughing babies give the impression that bottle-fed babies are healthier.

Some companies hire "mothercraft personnel" (salespeople in nurse uniforms) to give healthy baby training sessions to encourage mothers to use formula. Free samples are often given to doctors and health workers who pass them on to new mothers. The giveaways in hospitals and clinics are all the more effective because it seems to mothers that hospitals recommend formula.

After years of international protest, including a boycott of one of the major third world marketers of infant formula, the World Health Organization developed a policy forbidding the use of some of these techniques to sell infant formula because formula endangered the health of babies in poor families. Some infant formula companies have adopted this policy. Unfortunately, other companies continue to market formula as before and have actually increased sales where there are now fewer competitors.

- Based on information from Infant Formula Action Campaign, 310 E. 38th St., Suite 3091, Minneapolis, MN 55409; and Science for the People, 897 Main St., Cambridge, MA 02139


boycott, colostrum, infant formula, informed choice, transnationals, underdeveloped country


1. What are some reasons mothers would choose to bottle-feed?

2. Describe some techniques used to encourage people to use infant formula rather than breast-feed their babies. Do these techniques help consumers make an informed choice?

3. What are some of the health effects of infant formula marketing?

4. Who profits from infant formula marketing? Who is hurt by it?

5. Do you think other products are marketed to poor people in similar ways? Can you think of examples?

6. Why would companies fully aware of the nutritional problems in feeding babies formula continue to market it?

Media watch

The U.S. food industry spends billions of dollars each year on advertising and marketing of venous food products. To become more aware of efforts companies make to influence the foods we purchase, it is important to think about what advertisements tell us about foods.

Choose one of the options below and fill out the data table. (If you are working with a group of students, divide yourselves into two sections so both options can be covered.)

Media watch options


1. Scan at least three different magazines and clip food advertisements from each. Fill in the Media Watch table with descriptions of at least ten of the ads you have collected.

2. Watch at least two hours of commercial television and fill in the table whenever you view a commercial advertising a food product. You may want to divide your group so that you cover a variety of programming such as Saturday morning cartoons, daytime soap operas, weekend sports, or prime time adventure shows.


1. Describe some techniques used to encourage people to purchase certain food items. Do these techniques help consumers make informed choices about foods?

2. What sorts of food products are advertised the most? Look at the nutrition labeling on some of these products. Are they high in protein or vitamins?

3. What do you imagine are some of the health effects of food advertising? What are the effects of increasing the amount of soft drinks and snack foods in our diets?

4. Who profits from food advertising? How do advertised foods compare in price with nonadvertised or generic foods? (You might want to check this at a local supermarket.) How do advertised foods compare in nutritional value to nonadvertised or generic brands?

5. Could food advertising be used to help consumers? How?


informed choice, prime time, generic foods


1. You could do a skit showing infant formula marketing in the third world, portraying a mother and a salesperson.

2. It might be interesting to do a class survey about why classmates buy certain foods and other items such as clothes or records. Do people often choose brand names over house brands? Why? What effect does peer pressure have on the food we eat? You may want to present the results of this Media Watch on a chart.

3. You might write a questionnaire asking people to list their three favorite foods, their favorite brand names, why they choose certain foods, etc. After collecting the questionnaires, your group could lead a class discussion based on the results.

Media watch