Zee Media Bureau
New Delhi: Amid concerns over unlawful tactics adopted by manufacturers of infant food, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that stricter laws be imposed against promotion of breast milk subsitutes.
The move is to encourage breastfeeding of young children as breast milk is the best food for the baby.
Suggesting all its member countries to frame stringent law and not allow any product marketed as a breast milk substitute, WHO recommends that babies are fed nothing but breast milk for their first 6 months, after which they should continue breastfeeding as well as eating other safe and nutritionally adequate foods until 2 years of age or beyond.
The UN agency also recommends that any product for infants and young children should carry messages highlighting the importance of continued breast feeding for up to two years.
It is said that globally, nearly 2 out of 3 infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended 6 months - a rate that has not improved in 2 decades.
As per a report from TOI, latest official data released under the fourth National Family Health Survey for 15 states reveal breastfeeding in India is at 47.7%, whereas exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of child is only little higher at 57.5%.
WHO's recommendations will be placed in its upcoming 69th World Health Assembly, the highest decision making body of WHO.
"Products that function as breast-milk substitutes should not be promoted," WHO's secretariat said in its report, which is part of the provisional agenda items for the assembly. The health assembly will begin next week from May 23-28 in Geneva to discuss new health related issues and review the progress of the goals set by it last year.
As per WHO estimates, the breast-milk substitute business is a big one, with annual sales amounting to almost US$ 45 billion worldwide. This is projected to rise by over 55% to US$ 70 billion by 2019.
Breast milk is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect the baby from many common childhood illnesses. It has been found that breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests. They are also less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life.
Mothers who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
However, inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide.