HKU announces a "Children of 1997" cohort study showing breastfeeding's impact on Hong Kong's public health -- Baby Friendly Action Joint Declaration signed on site to urge for immediate implementation of the HK Code
*adapted from a press release issued by LKS Faculty of Medicine on 18 July 2014 at http://www.med.hku.hk/v1/news-and-events/press-releases/
Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine of The University of Hong Kong (HKU) conducted a "Children of 1997" cohort study, which shows that formula-fed children have greater risk to suffer from short-term to medium-term illness, bringing heavier burden to public health of Hong Kong. The exclusive breastfeeding rate of Hong Kong infants at 6 months is 2.3%, one of the lowest among regions or countries worldwide. In light of this, the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF HK) and HKU, jointly held a press conference on July 18, 2014 to announce the research findings. And the Baby Friendly Action Joint Declaration was signed in the press conference, to urge the Government to promote breastfeeding and protect public health by implementing the Hong Kong Code of Marketing and Quality of Formula Milk and Related Products, and Food Products for Infants & Young Children ("the HK Code") immediately.
Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, Chair of Public Health Medicine of the School of Public Health at the University and lead researcher of the "Children of 1997"cohort study said, "Having followed this birth cohort for 17 years, we found that breastfeeding is beneficial to the physical and mental health development of children and adolescents, for instance on their reduced risk of infections, asthma, obesity, blood pressure and mental health issues, etc., when compared to those who were not fed with breast milk. By promoting breastfeeding, it can lessen the burden posed to our health care system."
"Breastmilk is the natural food of human infants and meets their needs optimally and completely. Breastfeeding is also the first step to strengthen the bond between the mother and baby, and helps build the long-term mother-infant relationship." said Dr Patrick Ip, Clinical Associate Professor of Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine of Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, HKU.
Nevertheless, with formula milk promotions flooded in the market, the public has inadequate knowledge about breastfeeding. Some even think formula milk is as nutritious as, or even superior to breastmilk. General public also do not understand why breastfeeding is related to government policy.
The Government will report and discuss the public consultation results of the HK Code at the Legislative Council panel on health services coming Monday (21 July). The decision will determine the future of breastfeeding in Hong Kong. "We noted that the Hong Kong Government is facing huge opposition on planning to implement the HK Code. To allay the concerns of the Government and general public, two nutrition and health specialists from UNICEF New York Headquarters and UNICEF China respectively were assigned to meet the government officials in Hong Kong last week. The experts explained the importance of the HK Code, and shared the foreign experience of the similar Code implementation." said Dr Maggie Koong, Vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF and Chairman of the UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association.
"Any promotion of infant formula/ follow on formula, in whatever ways, is in direct competition with breastfeeding," said Dr Chow Chun-bong, Honorary Clinical Professor of School of Public Health and Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, HKU. By implementing the Code, he hopes to create a more breastfeeding friendly environment and revive the breastfeeding culture. Dr Chow indicated that, follow-on formula is not only unnecessary but unsuitable when used to replace breast milk from six months onwards because it leads together intake of protein and less of other nutrients. He urged the Government to have a full implementation on the Code in its entirety, to regulate infant feeding information of 36 months or below, so to make breastfeeding the norm again in Hong Kong.
In early July, UNICEF HK also formed Baby Friendly Action with six breastfeeding advocacy organizations, and issued a joint declaration to urge the Government to take immediate action on the implementation of the Code, and make Hong Kong a more breastfeeding-friendly city.
In the press conference, Dr Koong invited the three HKU professors and doctors to sign the Joint Declaration and support "Protect breastfeeding. Protect our health. Curb the inappropriate marketing of formula milk". As of yesterday, the Joint Declaration together with the online public petition have already collected over 3,500 petition signatures from individuals and organizations.