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UNICEF Rings Alarm Bells as Breastfeeding Rates Plummet in East Asia

News Item

posted by carolbartle on 24 May 2012

UNICEF recently released a media report highlighing their concerns about plummeting breastfeeding rates in East Asia.

We should all be concerned about these major declines in breastfeeding as New Zealand is playing a big part in the marketing of infant formula in countries such as China and the Philippines.

When the Health Dept and the Government of the Philippines attempted to strengthen their International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes (called the Milk Code) the US Embassy lobbied against a breastfeeding campaign and blocked the revisions of the Philippine Milk Code's Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRRs). This information from a US diplomatic cable was released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. Link below.

The well respected journalist George Monbiot also wrote about the Philippines situation on his website

Extract – “…the chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington – which represents three million businesses – wrote a letter to the president of the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo. The new rules, he claimed, would have “unintended negative consequences for investors’ confidence”. The country’s reputation “as a stable and viable destination for investment is at risk”. Four days later, the Supreme Court reversed its decision and imposed the restraining order PHAP had requested. It remains in force today. The government is currently unable to prevent companies from breaking the international code. So the Department of Health asked a senior government lawyer, Nestor Ballocillo, to contest the order. In December Ballocillo and his son were shot dead while walking from their home. The case remains unsolved: Ballocillo was working on several contentious issues. Last month the US regional trade representative paid another visit to the Philippines government. The department of health now appears to be wavering. In two weeks’ time the campaigners trying to promote breastfeeding will present their arguments to the Supreme Court to try to get the order lifted, and the formula companies will try to stop them. If the companies win, thousands of children will continue to die of preventable diseases”.

George Monbiot followed with another story about the misleading marketing of infant formula – well worth reading

Link to the full UNICEF story

UNICEF Rings Alarm Bells as Breastfeeding Rates Plummet in East Asia

“Bangkok, 1 May 2012 – UNICEF is worried about major declines in breastfeeding rates across East Asia and today called for greater attention to the critical importance of breastfeeding for children’s survival and cognitive development, as well as economic development in the region.

Exclusive breastfeeding contributes both directly and indirectly to sustainable development. Evidence has clearly shown that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life not only improves their future growth and educational achievement, but also significantly reduces national health costs and helps prevent chronic malnutrition.

“The falling rates of breastfeeding across East Asia are alarming”, said France Begin, UNICEF Nutrition Advisor for East Asia and the Pacific. “In Thailand as little as 5 per cent of all mothers breastfeed while the rate is less than 20 per cent in Vietnam. In China, only 28 per cent of babies are breastfed,” said Begin.

According to UNICEF, the low breastfeeding rates are the result of both economic developments enabling more women to enter the workforce, as well as aggressive marketing of infant formula in the region.

“Mothers across the region face increasing demands on their time, often have to return to work early after childbirth, and may have limited opportunities to breastfeed or express their milk in the workplace,” said Begin. “At the same time, baby food companies are targeting the fast growing economies in East Asia with aggressive marketing campaigns, persuading mothers to give up breastfeeding and purchase their products despite the drawbacks for their children.”

In India where all advertising for formula is prohibited, sales of infant formula remain low and breastfeeding rates are not declining”