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LCQ6: Breastfeeding

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yung-kan and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (November 17):


     It has been learnt that the Department of Health has set up a task force to develop a Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Code). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Government had conducted any studies in the past three years on the reasons for some mothers in Hong Kong not breastfeeding their babies; if it had, of the outcome; if not, on what basis the Government will formulate the relevant policies for encouraging breastfeeding; of the work progress of the aforesaid task force to date; when the trade and the public will be consulted on the content of the Code; and

(b) whether the Code to be drawn up will regulate all marketing activities relating to breast-milk substitutes in Hong Kong, including marketing of milk powder products through retailers and the Internet; if it will, how the activities will be regulated; if not, of the reasons for that and how the effectiveness of the Code can be ensured?



     Breastfeeding is an important public health issue.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends breastfeeding as the way of providing the best food for the healthy growth and development of infants.  The Government has all along endeavoured to promote, protect and support breastfeeding, and implement this policy through the Department of Health (DH) and Hospital Authority (HA).  Healthcare professionals provide counselling service for breastfeeding mothers, and help post-natal women acquire breastfeeding skills and tackle the problems they may encounter during breastfeeding.  Over the past 10 years, the percentage of babies discharged from public hospitals who had been breastfed has risen from 53% in 2000 to 73% in 2009.

     To provide more support to breastfeeding women, the Government has actively promoted the provision of babycare rooms in public places.  The Government's efforts include introduction of the Advisory Guidelines on Babycare Facilities (the Guidelines) in August 2008 for reference by government departments and public organisations.  Besides, to encourage the provision of babycare rooms in private commercial premises, the Government has issued a Practice Note on the Provision of Babycare Rooms in Commercial Buildings (the Practice Note) since February 2009.  Government departments and property developers have responded favourably to the Guidelines and the Practice Note.  As at October 2010, there were some 150 babycare rooms in government properties, whereas a total of 12 shopping arcades under the management of the Urban Renewal Authority, the Link and the Mass Transit Railway Corporation already provided or would provide babycare rooms on their premises.  In addition, babycare rooms will be provided in a number of projects to be carried out by property developers as shown on the plans submitted for approval by the Buildings Department as at the end of 2009.

     President, our reply to the question raised by Hon Wong Yung-kan is as follows:

(a) As revealed by researches conducted by DH, local academic institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the main reasons for mothers giving up breastfeeding their babies include: lack of breastfeeding techniques, perception of having not sufficient breast-milk, discomfort of having painful and engorged breasts, need to return to work, etc.  Surveys conducted by certain NGOs also show that the percentage of local obstetricians and paediatricians who have received breastfeeding training is on the low side and suggest that the relevant training should be strengthened.

     As mentioned above, the Government has formulated a policy to promote, protect and support breastfeeding based on the recommendations made in the Innocenti Declaration of WHO and United Nations Children's Fund and in light of the findings of local researches.  Healthcare professionals of DH's Maternal and Child Health Centres (MCHC) have received formal training to provide professional counselling services to breastfeeding mothers.  Workshops have also been conducted to equip breastfeeding working mothers with the necessary skills to get them prepared for continuing breastfeeding after returning to work.  Besides, DH is preparing a package of training kits for obstetricians, paediatricians, doctors working in accident and emergency departments and family physicians so as to let them have a better understanding of the breastfeeding policy and update them on the latest knowledge about breastfeeding coaching, with a view to providing more effective professional support to local mothers and babies.

     With the objectives to prevent non-communicable diseases and promote community health, the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) has earlier set up a Steering Committee on Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases.  Under this Steering Committee, a Working Group on Diet and Physical Activity has been established to make recommendations on matters relating to eating habits and physical activity, and set up a Task force to develop and promulgate a Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Hong Kong Code).  The Task force, formed in June 2010, is comprised of representatives from relevant government departments (including FHB, DH, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority), HA, specialist groups, Consumer Council, NGOs, etc.  The terms of reference of the Task force are as follows:

* To develop and promulgate the Hong Kong Code according to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes (the Code) of the WHO and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions;

* To develop a system for monitoring the compliance with the Hong Kong Code; and

* To monitor the compliance with the Hong Kong Code by the trade.

     It is expected that the drafting of the Hong Kong Code will be completed by the end of 2011.  Thereafter, the Government will introduce and publicise the Hong Kong Code to the trade and the public.

(b) The aim of the Hong Kong Code is to exercise regulation over the manufacturers and distributors of breast-milk substitutes so as to prohibit them from advertising and marketing their breast-milk substitutes and related products by way of malpractice.  The scope of regulation as recommended in the WHO Code covers marketing practices for all breast-milk substitutes including infant and baby formulas, feeding bottles, teats, baby food and related products.  Manufacturers and distributors are prohibited from promotion of their products among the public by way of advertisement or other forms of promotion including distribution of free samples of milk powder and coupons to mothers, product labels, information on baby feeding, thematic talks, and activities such as mothers' clubs and babies' clubs, etc.  In addition, no words or pictures idealising infant formulas or breast-milk substitutes are allowed on the product labels.  The Government will develop the Hong Kong Code having regard to the details and scope of regulation recommended in the WHO Code.

     At present, many countries like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia etc have formulated voluntary guidelines applicable in their own countries for compliance by the trade with reference to the WHO Code.  In light of the experience of these countries, it would be more effective in the control of undesirable marketing practices if appropriate monitoring and sanction mechanisms are put in place in tandem with implementation of the Code.  When the Hong Kong Code comes into effect, DH will monitor the situation and canvass the views of various parties to consider if there is a need to step up enforcement and regulation through the Hong Kong Code.

Ends/Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Issued at HKT 16:28


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