Mortality from Nestlé’s Marketing of Infant Formula in Low and Middle-Income Countries
Infant formula use has been implicated in tens of millions of infant deaths in low and middle-income countries over the past several decades, but causal evidence of its link with mortality remains elusive. We combine birth record data from over 2.6 million infants across 38 countries in the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) with reconstructed historical data from annual investor reports on the timing of Nestlé entrance into infant formula country markets. Consistent with the hypothesis that formula mixed with unclean water could act as a disease vector, we find that infant mortality increased in households with unclean water sources by 19.4 per thousand births following Nestlé market entrance, but had no effect among other households. This rate is equivalent to a 27% increase in mortality in the population using unclean water and amounts to about 212,000 excess deaths per year at the peak of the Nestlé controversy in 1981.