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[China] WHAT LIES BEHIND THE MILK...040423

2004.06.15
WHAT LIES BEHIND THE RECENT MILK POWDER INFANT DEATHS IN CHINA? Beijing/ Geneva, 23 April 2004. - The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expresses its sincerest condolences to the families of the 13 infants who died from the consumption of tainted powdered milk. The Chinese media has reported that at least a further 171 infants have also been affected, with the Government already having taken swift punitive action against the offending companies. The problem is believed to be more serious and widespread than it may initially have appeared, with some forty five milk-producing companies from several provinces being included in a warning list by the Food and Drugs Administration after their milk products failed to meet approved standards. The real issue is the increased use of Breast Milk Substitutes (BMS) in China for infant nutrition, regardless of the quality of the product. This tragic episode appears to confirm trends of decreasing breastfeeding patterns in China. While there is extensive scientific evidence that breastmilk is best for infants, especially during the first months of life, exclusive breastfeeding rates during the first four months of life in China have been declining from around 76% in 1998 to 64% at the present time. This may have significant long-term impacts on the physical and intellectual development of children. It is clear that China’s economic expansion and the attractions of a market of 19 million babies born every year have led commercial companies to aggressively market powdered milk , frequently in contravention of the International Code of Marketing endorsed by UNICEF, WHO and other international agencies. Other reasons for the decline in breastfeeding rates include the lack of baby-friendly workplaces and a widespread failure to effectively monitor and enforce the Code. Marketing and promotional abuses have not only helped undermine breastfeeding at the community level but have also eroded best practices at China’s baby-friendly hospitals, which were originally certified in the early 1990’s. UNICEF is aware that breastfeeding in China is being severely undermined by social and economic pressures.This has provided a major opportunity for manufacturers of powdered milk, with negative and even disastrous impact on the present health and future development of China’s children. UNICEF and WHO, backed by a wealth of evidence from the scientific and research communities, strongly maintain that breastfeeding ensures the very best possible health of infants, as well as enhancing their developmental and pycho-social potentials. The recent tragedy may thus be seen as "a wake-up call" to the medical community , the health systems and the community at large to take concerted action now to restore breastfeeding to the levels of past decades. TECHNICAL NOTE Additional information on the benefits of Breastfeeding; Extensive scientific evidence, especially in recent years, has documented diverse and compelling advantages to infants, mothers, families, and society from breastfeeding and the use of human milk for infant feeding. These include health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, psychological, social, economic, and environmental benefits. Human milk is uniquely superior for infant feeding and is species-specific;all substitute feeding options differ markedly from it. Epidemiological studies have shows that human milk and breastfeeding of infants provide advantages with regard to general health, growth, and development. Breastfeeding significantly decreases risk for a large number of acute and chronic diseases including the incidence and/or severity of diarrhea,lower respiratory infection,otitis media,bacteremia,bacterial meningitis,botulism,urinary tract infection,and necrotizing enterocolitis. Furthermore, a number of scientific studies have show possible protective effect of human milk feeding against sudden infant death syndrome,insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus,Crohn’s disease,ulcerative colitis,lymphoma,allergic diseases,and other chronic digestive diseases. Breastfeeding has been related to possible enhancement of cognitive development as well as with possible health benefits for mothers. It increases levels of oxytocin, resulting in less postpartum bleeding and more rapid uterine involution.Lactational amenorrhea causes less menstrual blood loss over the months after delivery. Recent research demonstrates that lactating women have an earlier return to prepregnant weight,delayed resumption of ovulation with increased child spacing, improved bone remineralization postpartum with reduction in hip fractures in the postmenopausal period,and reduced risk of ovarian cancer and premenopausal breast cancer. In addition to individual health benefits, breastfeeding provides significant social and economic benefits to the nation,(superscript: ) including reduced health care costs and reduced employee absenteeism (superscript: )for care attributable to child illness. The significantly lower(superscript: )incidence of illness in the breastfed infant allows the parents(superscript: )more time for attention to siblings and other family duties and(superscript: )reduces parental absence from work and lost income. The direct(superscript: )economic benefits to the family are also significant. * * *
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