Bogus claims on infant formula undermine breastfeeding drives

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 March, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 March, 2017, 11:03pm

Recently, a group of mothers complained about the TVB Jade programme Scoop discussing the benefits of breast milk versus formula milk. They questioned the information provided in the show, considering the revenue the TV station will earn from the adverts it runs by producers of breast milk substitutes.

There have always been concerns about the inappropriate promotion of breast milk substitutes, for example, some include inaccurate claims that a product can improve a child’s health or intellectual performance. Such information can mislead caregivers, and lead to them giving formula milk to babies or stopping breastfeeding early.

While Unicef Hong Kong promotes “Say Yes to Breastfeeding” and supports the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association to help mothers initiate and sustain breastfeeding, we have found that the inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes is the main barrier to breastfeeding. Unsubstantiated claims over formula milk distort the public’s perceptions on breastfeeding and undermine the social support mothers receive. As a result, many children miss out on the benefits of the most nutritious food – breast milk, and the health protection that comes with breastfeeding.

The government will introduce the Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Formula Milk and Related Products, and Food Products for Infants and Young Children. This voluntary code doesn’t restrict the availability of breast milk substitutes in cases where necessary, but aims to stop the harmful promotion of these products so that caregivers can make informed choices about how to feed babies, based on unbiased and scientific facts.

Every child deserves a healthy start in life, so every mother deserves to get correct information to protect the well-being of their children. Clever marketing should not fudge the truth that there is no equal substitute for a mother’s own milk.

Even if a mother cannot breastfeed, under the code, she can still readily access information free from commercial influence (for example, material prepared by the Department of Health), on infant feeding, how to choose the formula milk appropriate for her baby, and safely prepare and feed the milk to her baby.

We are not judging whether a mother should or should not breastfeed her baby. We just believe every mother should have access to impartial information to make the best choice, as her decision on how her baby is fed today will have a profound effect on her baby’s health now and in the future.

Jane Lau, chief executive, Hong Kong Committee for Unicef