WHO and UNICEF have warned that Vietnamese children's health could be at risk because of inappropriate labelling and marketing of breast milk substitutes on sale.

Incorrectly renaming breast milk substitutes as "complementary food" or "nutrition products", makes them fall outside the regulatory authority of the Ministry of Finance, they said.

Also, the price of breast milk substitutes on sale in Vietnam remains a controversy. Much of the media refer to the cost as vastly inflated.

At the same time, the labelling issue affects the implementation of the Law on Advertisements which came into force in January. This law bans advertisements for breast milk substitutes for children up to two years.

The use of these terms is said to be confusing for consumers, distracting buyers from the global evidence that provides clear recommendations for feeding infants and young children.

WHO and UNICEF said that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. From the age of six months, breast milk remains the most appropriate liquid part of a diet for most children up to two years of age, once complementary feeding has begun.

WHO warns that specially formulated milks or so-called "follow-up milks" are not necessary, and even unsuitable when used as a breast-milk replacement. Current formulations lead to higher protein intake and lower intake of essential fatty acids, iron, zinc and B vitamins than those recommended by WHO for adequate growth and development of infants and young children.

In Vietnam wrongly labelling formula milk as "complementary food" has already caused confusion. Complementary feeding refers to the period when breast milk alone is no longer sufficient to meet the nutritional requirements of infants and young children, and other foods are needed, along with breast milk. Simply because a product is fed during the complementary feeding period between eight and 24 months, as in the case of "follow-up" formula, does not mean it is a complementary food.

Nguyen Thanh Lan, mother of an 18-year-month boy in Hai Ba Trung District, said she did not pay attention to the labelling of formula milk as complementary foods or baby formula when choosing milk powder products. "I do not clearly understand the differences between quality of milk products labelled as supplementary foods and baby formula."

To safeguard the health and development of Vietnamese children, WHO and UNICEF strongly recommend that the Ministries of Health and Finance classify "follow-up" formulas correctly as milk products. This would ensure that they will be subject to price control and covered by marketing restrictions as contained in the International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.-VNA