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Improving early childhood nutrition can save the lives of one million children a year

NEW YORK (August 1, 2012) — On the 20th anniversary of World Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF says strong national policies supporting breastfeeding could prevent the deaths of about one million children under five in the developing world each year.

“If breastfeeding were promoted more effectively and women were protected from aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes, we would see more children survive and thrive, with lower rates of disease and lower rates of malnutrition and stunting,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. 

Each year, more than 7.6 million children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to reduce that number. However, despite compelling evidence that exclusive breastfeeding prevents diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia that kill millions of children every year, global rates of breastfeeding have remained relatively stagnant in the developing world, growing from 32% in 1995 to 39% in 2010. 

Some of the roadblocks to improving breastfeeding rates are widespread and unethical marketing by makers of breast milk substitutes, poor national policies that do not support maternity leave, and a lack of understanding of the risks of not breastfeeding. 

The 2008 Lancet Nutrition Series highlighted the remarkable fact that a non-breastfed child is 14 times more likely to die in the first six months than an exclusively breastfed child. Breast milk meets a baby's complete nutritional requirements and is one of the best values among investments in child survival as the primary cost is the mother’s nutrition.

“Breastfeeding needs to be valued as a benefit which is not only good for babies, mothers and families, but also as a saving for governments in the long run,” said Lake.

World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated each year from August 1-7, is an observance started in 1992 to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health care, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. But still, 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org
Kiní Schoop, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2634, kschoop@unicefusa.org

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