Global call for action on early-life nutrition: boosting breastfeeding and first foods in sustainable food systems 

Dr Phillip Baker aims to shine a light on how to generate political commitment for action to improve early-life nutrition worldwide. 

For his Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, Dr Phillip Baker is working to put infant and young child nutrition on the global agenda.  

 Dr Baker wants to generate worldwide attention and political commitment for action on early-life nutrition – especially in relation to advancing breastfeeding, breastmilk and other first foods as a part of healthy and sustainable food systems. 

 He is examining the changing diets of infants and children around the world, and has started building a framework to further our understanding of why diets are improving in some countries and worsening in others. 

 “We’re investigating the rise of ultra-processed foods in the diets of families, infants and young children, which is raising serious concern for global human and planetary health,” Dr Baker said.  

 “We are asking what’s holding back political commitment for action on these issues, and what can be done to generate commitment in the future.” 

 Dr Baker’s work will help to inform guidance and action by international agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as government policy makers and community groups who wish to improve early-life nutrition.  

“It will also help researchers and policy makers working on how to make food systems healthier and more sustainable to understand how they can incorporate breastfeeding, breastmilk and other first foods into their research and policy action,” he said.  

“How we think and talk about breastfeeding and complementary feeding is often framed only in terms of health. This research broadens the scope of thinking and action to also consider sustainability.  

“It also recognises the often overlooked, but crucial contributions that breastfeeding women and families make to healthy and sustainable food systems.”  

So far, Dr Baker has co-authored three papers in the medical journal The Lancet, which drew worldwide attention to how baby food companies and other commercial forces undermine breastfeeding.  

He also presented this research at a WHO and UNICEF event in Geneva in June 2023, which convened UN agencies, government officials, civil society groups and other experts from more than 120 countries to consider how to accelerate worldwide action on this issue. 

“Our goal is to generate political commitment for healthy and sustainable infant and young child diets among international organisations, governments and wider society,” Dr Baker said.  

“But most importantly, we want it to lead to better nutrition outcomes for infants and young children around the world.”