HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's contaminated milk products scandal, which have landed thousands of children in hospital in China this month with kidney illnesses, has reignited calls from medical experts for a return to breastfeeding.
Apart from expounding the various merits of breastmilk, they warned Asian countries, which have been consuming more dairy products in recent decades, of a possible rise in incidences of diseases like breast cancer and osteoporosis in the years ahead.
"Breastmilk has a lot of advantages for infants. It has antibodies and protects children from (gastrointestinal) infections like diarrhoea," said Marie Tarrant, assistant professor of nursing studies at the University of Hong Kong.
"The baby grows more stably, is not overweight ... the nutritional content in breastmilk changes as the baby grows, unlike formula milk. Breastfed babies just take what they need, bottle-fed babies tend to be overfed."
Breastmilk has more carbohydrates, easily digestible protein, and the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that infants need.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization issued a statement last week calling for the return to breastmilk for infants.
"No infant formula contains the perfect combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats to enhance infant growth and brain development as breastmilk does," they said.
Mary Lee, a mother of two boys in Singapore, said: "Breastfeed for as long as you can. Not just to provide life-nourishing food to your baby, but to create a life-giving bond with your child for the rest of your lives. I have been breastfeeding for seven years now."
Advocates say infants should be fed exclusively with breastmilk for the first six months of life. Thereafter, infants should receive complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed up to at least the age of two years.
A number of studies in recent years has shown associations between increasing dairy product consumption and diseases such as prostate cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's.
"The Western diet is associated with an increase in chronic illnesses like Alzheimer's, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Leading the list of the worst possible foods for humans and associated with most forms of chronic illness is cows' milk," said Peter Dingle, an environmental toxicologist at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia.
"The breast cancer rate in China is 1 percent, and 13 percent in Australia. It's crazy to think that adopting a western diet is to be of any benefit for kids ... If milk were the fantastic solution for calcium it's made out to be, one wonders why countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis."
Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Alex Richardson