More countries have laws related to promoting breastfeeding — UN agencies

May 11, 2016 4:01 am 

UNITED NATIONS, May 10 — A new report by three UN agencies showed an increase in the number of countries applying the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, a UN spokesman said here Monday.

The report by the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Baby Food Action Network revealed the status of national laws related to the code, an international health policy framework for breastfeeding promotion adopted by WHO in 1981.

Of the 194 countries analyzed in the report, a total of 135 countries have now in place some legal measures related to the code, up by 32 countries compared to 2011, Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

However, only 39 countries have laws that enact all provisions of the Code, a slight increase from 37 in 2011, he said.

"The Code calls on countries to protect breastfeeding by preventing inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats. It also aims to ensure that breast-milk substitutes are used safely," the spokesman added.

WHO and UNICEF recommend that babies are fed nothing but breast milk for their first six months, after which they should continue breastfeeding — as well as eating other safe and nutritionally adequate foods — until two years of age or beyond.

In that context, WHO member states have committed to increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life to at least 50 percent by 2025 as one of a set of global nutrition targets.

It also bans all forms of promotion of substitutes, including advertising, gifts to health workers and distribution of free samples.

In addition, under the Code, labels cannot make nutritional and health claims or include images that idealize infant formula. They must include clear instructions on how to use the product and carry messages about the superiority of breastfeeding over formula and the risks of not breastfeeding.

"It is encouraging to see more countries pass laws to protect and promote breastfeeding, but there are still far too many places where mothers are inundated with incorrect and biased information through advertising and unsubstantiated health claims," said Francesco Branca, director of WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. "This can distort parents' perceptions and undermine their confidence in breastfeeding, with the result that far too many children miss out on its many benefits," Branca said.

The breast-milk substitute business is a big one, with annual sales amounting to almost USD45 billion worldwide. This is projected to rise by more than 55 percent to USD70 billion by 2019.

"The breast milk substitutes industry is strong and growing, and so the battle to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding around the world is an uphill one — but it is one that is worth the effort," says UNICEF Nutrition chief Werner Schultink.

"Mothers deserve a chance to get the correct information: that they have readily available the means to protect the health and well-being of their children. Clever marketing should not be allowed to fudge the truth that there is no equal substitute for a mother's own milk."

Overall, richer countries lag behind poorer ones. The proportion of countries with comprehensive legislation in line with the Code is highest in the WHO South-East Asia Region (36 percent, or four out of 11 countries), followed by the WHO African Region (30 percent, or 14 out of 47 countries) and the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region (29 percent, or six out of 21 countries).

The WHO Region of the Americas (23 percent, or eight out of 35 countries); Western Pacific Region (15 percent, or four out of 27 countries); and European Region (6 percent, or three out of 53 countries) have lower proportions of countries with comprehensive legislation. (PNA/Xinhua)



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