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Aggressive marketing of baby milk poses health risk: report

Aggressive marketing by multinational manufacturers of baby formula hamper efforts to promote breastfeeding, which could be detrimental to babies’ health, according to a report by an international non-profit organisation promoting children’s rights.

The Save the Children report, entitled “Don’t Push It,” noted the aggressive marketing strategies of six global companies that hold more than 50 percent of the breast milk substitutes market.

It noted that the six companies have low compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to protect breastfeeding.

The report, which was released on Tuesday, said parents were “bombarded with advertisements and social media promotions while doctors report receiving gifts and incentives to promote baby formula milk.”

It said the number of babies being fed formula has risen to unprecedented levels, and the breast milk substitute industry is expanding up to three times faster than the global economy.

Dr Ohmar Soe Win, deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration Department in Yangon, added that breast milk substitutes for children under two years old are controlled by the Code of Marketing Notification, released in 2014.

However, she noted that despite the code in place for the past four years, breast milk substitute products continue to be marketed in ways that are explicitly prohibited by the code.

“All formula milk products, both imported and local, are controlled under the Code of Marketing,” Dr Ohmar Soe Win said. “They must be labeled entirely according to the guidelines, such as having a label in Myanmar language.”

“Some products on the market have incomplete labels,” she said, but noted that there has been an improvement in following the Code of Marketing.

Nonetheless, Dr Ohmar Soe Win admitted that the aggressive advertising of infant formula products could derail the government campaign to promote breast feeding.

Michael McGrath, country director of Save the Children, said that although breast milk substitute products do play an important role for mothers who cannot breastfeed, formula milk products are being pushed onto people in Myanmar by companies in a manner that is inconsistent with globally agreed upon guidelines.

“The growth of infant formula has risen well out of proportion with the number of people who need those products,” he warned.

“Children who need breast milk are being given substitutes because of misleading advertising campaigns – and because health workers are being co-opted to join this campaign by unscrupulous marketers,” he added.

Dr May Khin Than, director of the National Nutrition Centre under the Ministry of Health and Sports, said half of the children under six months old in the country are exclusively breastfed.

“Fifty-one percent of children are exclusively breastfed in the country and we want to achieve a 90pc breastfeeding compliance,” she said.

“Formula milk is just for mothers who can’t breastfeed. But exclusive breastfeeding is the best way for the children to be nourished and to prevent diseases such as diarrhea,” she added.

Dr May Khin Than noted that while the government has no plan to ban companies selling infant formula, they need to follow the WHO and government regulations.

The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Children should be given complementary nutrition and foods from six months onward and continue to be breastfed until two years old.

The Save the Children report said health professionals should do what is best for Myanmar babies and promote breastfeeding to ensure adequate nutrition among the newborns.

“They should decline association, gifts, and sponsorships with substitute producers which may lead to endorsements of products,” it said.

The report also called on civil society, local and international non-governmental organisations to support the government’s campaign to promote breastfeeding.

But the report admitted marketing is not the only factor at play in the rising popularity of infant milk.

“Demand for formula is increasing due to urbanisation, increased female participation in labour markets and other factors,” it said.

Source : Myanmar Times

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