about 2018 World Health Assembly Resolution on
Infant and Young Child Feeding
July 10, 2018
Resolving to Protect, Support and Promote Breastfeeding
The circumstances surrounding the World Health Assembly 71 Resolution on Infant and Young Child Feeding have made national headlines this week, but the critical issues at hand are far from new.
The ethics and conflicts of interest in the marketing and distribution of infant formula have long been a focus of controversy. Central to these debates is the extent to which the infant feeding industry must be held accountable for aggressive marketing tactics, which deliberately seek to disrupt breastfeeding and contribute to ever-increasing rates of malnutrition and death in infants worldwide.
In 1981, a landmark resolution was passed at the World Health Assembly to establish international guidelines for the marketing and use of breastmilk substitutes, known as the World Health Organization (WHO) Code. The WHO Code provides global policy guidance for implementing country-level standards to support safe infant nutrition, including breastfeeding, formula feeding and complementary feeding. In 1981, the US voted against the resolution to adopt the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The U.S. has never had, and does not currently have dedicated WHO Code legislation or Code-related provisions incorporated into other legal measures.
The late Miriam Labbok, MD, MPH, founding director of the Gillings School’s Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute, was a staunch and vocal advocate for improved international regulation of the marketing and distribution of infant formula. As one of the original authors of the Innocenti Declaration, she made it her life’s work to protect a parent’s decision to breastfeed as a basic human right without exposure to the bias of commercial interests.
At the Institute, we continue to uphold Dr. Labbok’s legacy through our work to assist hospitals in the United States to implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and through our graduate-level Pathway 2 lactation consultant training program which is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs upon the recommendation of the Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee.
The Institute participates in breastfeeding advocacy in the WHO/UNICEF Global Breastfeeding Collective, the ENN Infant Feeding in Emergencies Core Group, the CORE Group Humanitarian-Development Task Force, and the United States Breastfeeding Committee. Our faculty members conduct world-class research on breastfeeding, which strengthens the evidence base for public health policy and practice.
While the Infant and Young Child Feeding resolution that ultimately was adopted is substantially weaker than intended, it is still significant that the resolution was adopted. All of us must continue to strive globally for greater health equity that is inclusive of breastfeeding. It is also important to recognize that increased protection, promotion and support for breastfeeding is not mutually exclusive of supporting families who decide to use formula. All families deserve the right to scientific-based infant feeding information and support that is unfettered by profit-driven conflicts of interest.
-Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute
For links to additional media coverage and organizational statements reacting to this topic, please click here.