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May 3, 2012

UNICEF Protests Rapidly Dropping Breastfeeding Rates in East Asia

Breastfeeding rates in Asia have
been dropping significantly since 2000
Photo: AP/BBC, 2007
UNICEF nutrition experts are concerned by the dropping breastfeeding rates in East Asia.  They believe that education on the health benefits of breastfeeding is necessary and some market restrictions are needed on infant formula.  And, they stress the need for workplace regulations such as extended maternity leave that encourage breastfeeding.  

According to UNICEF, breastfeeding for the first six months of life "significantly reduces national health costs and helps prevent malnutrition."  In Thailand, currently less than 5% of mothers follow this pattern.  According to the World Bank, the rates in Vietnam is 10%, China 28% and across the East Asia and the Pacific in general, less than 30%. UNICEF notes that these statistics reflect the “aggressive marketing of infant formula in the region.”  Emerging markets make up 73 % of the $30 billion global infant nutrition market.

The International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes discourages marketing of infant formula on billboards but does not stop companies from making health claims on formula labels or offering free samples.  
Different Asian countries have different enforcement measures for this international code.  It is strictly enforced in the Philippines but voluntary in Thailand.

Vietnam is one country that is setting an example in allowing women 6 months maternity leave.  This helps to boost breastfeeding rates.  Both Canada and Norway have 1 year maternity leaves and statistics demonstrate that this significantly increased breastfeeding rates.  

Cambodia is an example of how education and new regulations can reverse statistics.  Between 1995 and 2003, breastfeeding rates were at 12%.  With education and community support these rates jumped to 74% between 2006-2010.

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About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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