Wong believes many people have been brainwashed by advertisements. “There are too many milk formula advertisements,” complains Wong. “Basically my friends, especially those of the older generation, truly believe that milk formula can make their babies know how to distinguish the size of bears and bees; know how to play the piano and be more outstanding,” says Wong of television adverts that promote the supposed health benefits of specific brands of formula milk.
To regulate the promotion of milk formula, the Department of Health proposed a set of voluntary guidelines, the Hong Kong Code of Marketing and Quality of Formula Milk and Related Products, and Food Products for Infants and Young Children (referred to as the Hong Kong Code), at the end of last year. It applies to milk formula products for infants and young children from birth to 36 months.
The code is currently undergoing public consultation and the Hong Kong Infant and Young Child Nutrition Association, formed by six leading milk formula manufacturing companies, argues it would limit the fundamental right of consumers to the free access of information.
Heidi Lam Yan-yee, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, thinks this argument is unreasonable.
Lam says the underlying aim of advertisements is not to provide information but to promote and increase the sales of products. “If consumers want to gain access to accurate information, they are not going to find it from advertisements,” she says.
Lam, who is also an active member of the La Leche League, says that even without the advertisements, Hong Kong lacks a breastfeeding culture. La Leche League is an international, nonprofit organisation that promotes breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding is not something sacred or outstanding, it is just something natural and normal,” Lam says.
Christine Lam Chi-oi, breastfeeding nurse consultant in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, agrees. Lam points out the problem is deeply entrenched and goes back to at least to the 1970s when the breastfeeding rates were below 10 per cent. “Culturally, this generation lacks knowledge about breastfeeding,” says Lam. “This generation gap is very damaging since they cannot pass on the wisdom to future generations.”