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Lifetime health outcomes of breast-feeding: a comparison of the policy documents of five European countries

  • Elena Martin-Bautista (a1), Heather Gage (a2), Julia von Rosen-von Hoewel (a3), Viktoria Jakobik (a4), Kirsi Laitinen (a5), Martina Schmid (a2), Jane Morgan (a2), Peter Williams (a2), Tamas Decsi (a4), Cristina Campoy (a1), Berthold Koletzko (a3) and Monique Raats (a2)...

Abstract

Objective

To (i) identify and describe prevailing infant feeding policy documents in five diverse European countries; (ii) analyse types of health outcomes for the infant that are associated with feeding breast milk rather than formula milk in the documents of different countries; and (iii) assess the extent to which documents reflect the WHO global recommendation of exclusive breast-feeding for 6 months.

Design

Documentary review and analysis.

Setting

Five geographically dispersed countries of Europe (England, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Spain).

Subjects

Policy documents on infant feeding were identified; statements that linked choice between breast- and formula-feeding to a health outcome for the infant were extracted.

Results

Twenty-six documents (varied authorships, dates, length and character) were identified: four from England; two from Finland; nine from Germany; six from Hungary; and five from Spain. There was no consistency in the way in which health outcomes were cited as factors in the recommendations for breast- rather than formula-feeding. Seven documents contained no reference to the health implications of infant feeding choice. Of 203 statements in remaining documents citing health outcomes, 24·1 % mentioned general health effects, 32·5 % protection against infections, 31·5 % long-term conditions (e.g. diabetes, CVD) and 11·8 % mentioned allergy. Health outcomes were linked to exclusive breast-feeding in only 25 % of statements.

Conclusions

Policy documents in the study countries varied in the extent to which they reflect the health outcomes for the baby of breast-feeding, and this may limit effective promotion by health professionals. There is scope to improve the process of bringing evidence and recommendations into policy documents.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Email h.gage@surrey.ac.uk

References

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