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close this bookFood and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 04, Number 3, 1982 (UNU, 1982, 64 pages)
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View the documentInternational course in food science and nutrition

Publication announcement

The results of a collaborative international study on Rethinking Infant Nutrition Policy under Changing Socio-economic Conditions, completed by an ad hoc task force of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences, were presented at the International Congress of Nutrition in San Diego, California, USA, in August 1981, and are now available in two reports.

Funded by the development agencies of Norway (NORAD), Sweden (SIDA), and Denmark (DANIDA), the study had four decentralized sub-studies co-ordinated from the Institute for Nutrition Research, University of Oslo, Norway: three country case studies-carried out in Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Brazil and an international questionnaire survey of milk-company advertising and promotion practices in the six WHO regions. The country studies were conducted by teams based at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka; the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; the São Paulo Department of Health, São Paulo, Brazil; and the Center for Population and Family Health at Columbia University, New York, N.Y., USA. The international survey was conducted from the Division of Population, Family and International Health, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, Calif., USA.

The country studies included: national policy and national statistical analysis; survey of 200 mother-infant pairs in urban areas in each country, evenly divided between mothers who were formally employed and those who were not; field studies of retail markets, health services, and working places of urban mothers; group discussions with mothers; and case studies of individual mothers.

The country-study results and policy conclusions are as follows:

1. The study found that (a) mothers' employment, either formal or informal, accounted for only a small portion of the wide-spread use of breast-milk substitutes; (b) laws protecting the opportunities of employed mothers to breast-feed covered only the formally employed women not the equally large number of informally employed mothers; (c) laws provided for daily breaks for breast-feeding and crèches at the work place in each country; however, these laws were rarely implemented both because of employee's reluctance and because of mothers' transportation difficulties and personal preferences.

Therefore, labour policies should bring mothers' reproductive child-rearing roles into closer harmony with their productive roles in developing economies. Policies should account for (a) mothers' desire to breast-feed; (b) mothers' desire to obtain and retain employment; (c) mothers' desire to breast-feed in or close to home; (d) the large proportion of mothers who are informally employed.

2. The study found that (a) national/international economic factors and economic policy responses in the three countries were important influences on the volume of importation or production and the prices of breast-milk substitutes; (b) the availability and affordability of products were often only coincidentally related to the real needs of mothers and infants; (c) the use of commercial breast-milk substitutes was associated with less complete breast-feeding and shorter duration of breast-feeding.

Therefore, foods such as breast-milk substitutes should no longer be considered as simple commodities to be exchanged in the market but should be carefully regulated in full accord with the basic needs of mothers and infants through explicit national nutrition policies.

3. The study found that (a) promotion of commercial breast-milk substitutes by multinational corporations has occurred for many decades in all three countries; (b) awareness of and loyalty to essentially identical brand-name name products were widespread in all three cities among all economic classes; (c) this exposure was among the influences on mothers' infant-feeding attitudes and practices.

Therefore, information on infant-feeding choices should come from sources that are informed about culturally appropriate feeding methods and are free from any commercial interest in the practices mothers select. The strongest national policies should be implemented in line with the WHO Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, which prohibits the commercial advertising and promotion of breast-milk substitutes either directly to the public or indirectly thorough health services,

Requests for the full report of the cross-national study may be made to:

Elisabet Helsing
Institute for Nutrition Research
School of Medicine
University of Oslo, Blindern
PO Box 1046
Oslo 3, Norway

The international survey report may be requested from:

D.B. Jelliffe
Division of Population, Family, and International Health
School of Public Health, UCLA
Los Angeles, Calif. 90024, USA