May 21, 2001, Toronto, Canada
World Health Assembly Settles Duration of
INFACT Canada urges Canada to adopt the
The World Health Assembly has endorsed a landmark resolution at its 54th
gathering of member states in Geneva, recommending that infants be exclusively
breastfed for six months and continue to be breastfed to two years or beyond.
Resolution World Health Assembly 54.2 (ref. Agenda Item 13.1, Infant and
young child nutrition, A54/45) in para 2(4) urges Member States to:
"support exclusive breastfeeding for six months as a global public health
recommendation taking into account the findings of the WHO Expert
Consultation on optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding, and to provide safe
and appropriate complementary foods, with continued breastfeeding for up to
two years or beyond, ..."
This resolution settles a 7-year controversy of whether the recommendation for
exclusive breastfeeding should be "4 to 6 months" or "for six months" and
whether baby foods should be marketed before the age of six months. After
rigorous examination of all scientific evidence, a WHO Expert Consultation
recommended that the Assembly adopt the "for six months" position.
Additionally, the resolution calls for improved measures of consumer protection
to prevent misinformation through the use of health claims and that there be no
advertising or other forms of promotion of breastmilk substitutes and related
products, including the use of the internet by the infant foods industries as this
undermines optimal breastfeeding practices.
Despite last minute efforts by the baby food industries to weaken the
recommendation, the Resolution passed unanimously after two and a half hours of
debate chaired by Dr. Professor S. Ongeri of Kenya. More than 50 country
delegates and several international non-governmental organizations stressed the
need to do more to protect breastfeeding, which confers optimal health to infants
and young children especially for the first 6 months of life.
Canada played an important role in achieving global consensus for the resolution.
The new resolution which was first put forward by Brazil in May of 2000, was
not debated at the World Health Assembly in 2000 as not all agreed to the 6
month recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding. Instead the Brazilian
proposal was turned over to a drafting committee and debated by the WHO
Executive Board in January of 2001. Health Canada's Dr. Jean Lariviére chaired
the 15 hours of this debate, the outcome of which received unanimous
acceptance at the 54th Assembly.
INFACT Canada, which has been supporting and promoting the position of
exclusive breastfeeding for six months with continued breastfeeding for two years
or beyond, since 1994, is pleased to finally see this as a global public health
INFACT Canada's, National Director, Elisabeth Sterken who was present
during the WHA debate states,
"Settling the debate on the duration of exclusive breastfeeding for six months is a
major step forward in improving the health of infants and young children
everywhere. We urge Canada to adopt nationally what it has endorsed at the
World Health Assembly. We also urge provincial Ministries of Health, health
professional bodies, public health and maternity units to promote and support
mothers to improve the duration of exclusive breastfeeding as well as continued
breastfeeding. Several countries have shown that simple public health
interventions supporting mothers to improve exclusive breastfeeding practices has
positive results and improves health outcomes. Canadian mothers need good
support so their babies can have the best."
For more information about the 54th WHA resolution and its implications for
Canadian mothers and infants please contact:
Elisabeth Sterken, National Director
6 Trinity Square
Toronto, ON M5G 1B1
Tel: (416) 595-9819 (O);
(519) 667-3045 (H)
Fax: (416) 591-9355