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Breastfeeding reduces cancer risk says comprehensive scientific review -
Will the UK Government act now to control formula marketing?

Press release 31 October 2007

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective published today states strong evidence shows that breastfeeding protects mothers against breast cancer and babies from excess weight gain. Excess weight gain is linked to increased risk of cancer. The report comes at a critical time as the UK Government is deliberating on strengthening legislation on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes.

The report adds to the overwhelming medical advice to the Government to take a tough and effective line with the manufacturers of breastmilk substitutes (such as infant formula and follow-on formula) and ensure that parents are provided with truly independent information instead of misleading commercial promotion.

All the leading health professional bodies dealing with infant and young child health (members of the Baby Feeding Law Group and the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition submission is Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula) and the Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) are calling for the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations to be brought into line with marketing requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly and implemented in many other countries. The Government has received 1,341 submissions to the consultation and will be presenting finalised legislation to Parliament in November.

The World Cancer Research Fund report includes 10 recommendations from a panel of 21 world-renowned scientists that represent the most definitive and authoritative advice that has ever been available on how the general public can reduce the risk of cancer. Recommendation 9 states :

"It's best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods. Strong evidence shows that breastfeeding protects mothers against breast cancer and babies from excess weight gain."

Recommendation 1 states:

"Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight. Convincing evidence shows that weight gain and obesity increases the risk of a number of cancers, including bowel and breast cancer."

Right: Baby Milk Action's poster references studies on infant feeding and obesity and the fact that an artificially-fed infant consumes 30,000 more calories than a breastfed infant by 8 months - equivalent to 120 chocolate bars.

Click here for a large version.

Obesity poster

The report states that there is convincing evidence that breast feeding protects against pre-menopausal and post-menopausal breast cancer. There is also limited evidence that it protects against cancer of the ovary. There is also evidence that being breastfed probably protects babies from becoming overweight or obese in later life. Scientists think that breastfeeding lowers the levels of some cancer-related hormones in the mother’s body, which reduces the risk of breast cancer. At the end of breastfeeding, the body gets rid of any cells in the breast that may have DNA damage. This reduces the risk of breast cancer in the future.

According to a Government survey, nine in ten mothers who gave up breastfeeding within six weeks said they would have preferred to breastfeed for longer, as did 40% of those who breastfed for at least 6 months (ref: Page 211 Infant Feeding Survey 2005).

Patti Rundall OBE, Policy Director at Baby Milk Action, said:

"It is already universally accepted that artificial feeding increases mortality rates and rates for infectious, chronic diseases and auto-immune diseases in the baby, it also offers less than optimal development and growth and lowers cognitive and visual development. This new report adds even more weight to the argument that the UK Government should control the marketing of formula milks – its failure to do so has resulted in British breastfeeding rates being almost the lowest in Europe. A new law has to be in place by the end of 2007. The Government must listen to its health advisors and put maternal and child health and women’s rights before the needs of industry. If it doesn’t the NHS will continue to pick up the intolerable costs."

Highlighting the impact that formula promotion and misleading claims have had on parents understanding of nutrition and health issues, the Government's own survey showed that 34% of mothers incorrectly believe that infant formula is the same or almost the same as breastfeeding (ref:
). Another independent survey found more than a third of mothers thought formula was 'as good' or 'better than' breastmilk (ref:

For information about the Campaign to improve the UK legislation contact:

Patti Rundall 07786 523493 or Mike Brady on 07986 735179 or go to:

For more information about the WCRF report please call : 020 7343 4228.

Notes for editors

  1. The UK has breastfeeding rates amongst the lowest in the industrialised world. Despite government commitments to improve breastfeeding rates there has been little change, with initiation rates of just 76%, meaning a quarter of infants receive no breastmilk at all. Breastfeeding rates then decline rapidly as the promotion exposed in Baby Milk Action’s recently launched Hard Sell Formula pamphlet undermines breastfeeding and encourages mothers to use formula. In the UK few infants are breastfed at 6 months. Government figures show just 48% are breastfed at 6 WEEKS.

  2. The UK Baby Feeding Law Group is an adhoc group of health professional and lay organizations working to bring UK and EU legislation into line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant WHA resolutions. Its members are: The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services, the Association of Radical Midwives, Baby Milk Action, the Breastfeeding Network, the Food Commission, the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors’ Association, Lactation Consultants of Great Britain, La Leche League (GB), Little Angels, Midwives Information and Resource Service, the National Childbirth Trust, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative.

  3. In its Public Health White Paper, Choosing Health, the Government stated: “Further action will include the review of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (1995) with a view to further restrict the advertising of infant formula. We will continue to press for amendments to the EU Directive on infant formula and follow-on formula.” While the Government did push for changes to the EU Directive, its efforts largely failed. However, legal experts agree that the Directive does not prevent the Government taking action to protect health by introducing World Health Assembly marketing requirements in UK law. The Baby Feeding Law Group submitted the report which submitted the report Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula to the consultation.

  4. Baby Feeding Law Group members are also members of the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition, which is calling for action in 7 areas to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.


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