Check milk powder ads, watchdog urged

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 December, 2009, 12:00am

A group of professionals and agencies concerned with children's rights is urging the Broadcasting Authority to monitor advertisements for baby milk powder because of what they say is the prevalence of misleading information.

Many parents rely on television commercials to choose the brand of milk powder for their baby but manufacturers' claims over ingredients that assist growth are not regulated, said Dr Patricia Ip Lai-sheung, the representative of the Hong Kong Committee on Children's Rights.

For instance, many makers advertised in their commercials the positive effect of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) on brain development and the immune system. But a study published in April by the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong said research findings to support this claim were inconsistent.

Similarly, makers claimed lutein had a protective effect on eye development of infants, but no large-scale research reviewed by the society suggested such effect on babies. Findings on the protective effect of lutein were relevant to age-related degeneration of the retina, a condition affecting the elderly, it said.

Amy Tse Tze-ying, mother of a six-month-old baby, said ads for baby milk powder raised many questions about the function of various ingredients. Similar sentiments were shared by Daby Tam Kwan-wah, a mother who criticised the lack of regulation of milk powder advertisements.

Tam said that when a commercial claimed to contain the highest level of DHA among milk products available, it was unclear who had the authority to say that product in fact had the highest level of the element, and whether 'highest' meant best.

Another problem was that when an ingredient was found to have a positive effect in breast milk, the effect may not be the same when it was isolated and later added to a formula, Ip said.

This was because there were about 200 active elements and not all chemical reactions among them were understood well.

In response to the allegations, Wyeth maintained in a statement that sufficient scientific evidence warranted the addition of lutein, namely, that it cannot be synthesised by the body and must be obtained by infants from breast milk. Furthermore, the US Food and Drug Administration accepted that lutein was safe to use in infant formulas.