Fall 97 Newsletter INFACT Canada

The Cost of Formula and Infant Feeding Security

Socio-economic data on infant feeding practices in industrialized countries consistently show that economically and educationally disadvantaged women are more likely not to breastfeed. In order to determine the cost of artificial feeding to this population, especially the population on social assistance, INFACT Canada did a survey in 1990, to determine the percentage of income required to purchase formula only. (See INFACT Canada Newsletter Spring 1990.)

Since a number of changes have occurred in social security allowances in several provinces between 1990 and 1997, we repeated our survey to determine if the percentage of income needed to purchase formula has changed.

Location Cost of formula for 6 months (In Can $) * Max. Welfare income for single parent with 2 children for 6 months (In Can $) ** Percent of income for formula
Vancouver, BC 381 - 1247 7050 5 - 18
St. John's NF 401 -1301 5664 7 - 23
Fredericton, NB 401 - 1422 4650 9 - 31
Edmonton, AB 375 - 1301 6102 6 - 21
Saskatoon, SK 375 - 1301 5760 7 - 23
Yellowknife, NWT 453 - 1476 4500 10 - 33
Toronto, ON 420 - 1422 6516 6 - 22
Halifax, NS 437 - 1985 5898 7 - 34

* Figures show range between lowest and highest priced milk-based formula products.
** Figures include maximum basic + food allowance.
Formula prices obtained from Shoppers Drug Mart.
Average recommended formula volume for infants up to age 1 is 733ml/day. (Adopted from data analysis by Ross Laboratories, 1985.)
Cohen, S.M., Kenner, C.A., Hollingsworth, A.O. (1991). Maternal, Neonatal, and Women’s Health Nursing. Springhouse Corporation, Springhouse, Pennsylvania.
Jelliffe & Jelliffe, 1978; Brown et al, 1986; Huffman & Combest, 1990; Paul et al., 1986 Neville et al., 1991.

Our results, shown in the chart below, are quite similar to those obtained in 1990. We found the cost to artificially feed was cheaper in the western provinces of Canada more expensive in the eastern, and high in the North West Territories. In some parts of the country where breastfeeding promotion and support programs are successfully increasing the rates, the cost has actually gone down. In Newfoundland, where the breastfeeding rates have gone up steadily from the approximately 38 per cent in the early 90s to around 50 per cent in 1997, the cost of purchasing formulas has gone down.

From this we can conclude that in order to stay competitive, industry varies its prices according to the degree of competition presented by breastmilk. Where breastfeeding rates are high or increasing, the price of formula has fallen and where breastfeeding rates are more vulnerable, the formula prices have risen.

Again we are appalled at the enormous percentage of income (from 5 to 34 per cent) it takes to purchase formula only for a mother on social assistance. And then the real cost in health and development is still to come.

Issues of food security are also at stake here. What happens when the money runs out? Will there be enough money to feed herself and the rest of her family? Breastfeeding or formula feeding may make the difference between dependence on a food bank or being self-sufficient.

Clearly programmes to enable this vulnerable population to breastfeed need to be given maximum priority.

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