A special series of articles published today in The Lancet shows that supporting and promoting breastfeeding in countries of all income levels can not only improve the health of women and children but also produce economic benefits.
PAHO expert is among authors of the special series showing that support for breastfeeding could add $300 billion to global economy, save 800,000 lives each year
Washington, D.C., 29 January 2016 (PAHO/WHO) — A special series of articles published today in The Lancet shows that supporting and promoting breastfeeding in countries of all income levels can not only improve the health of women and children but also produce economic benefits.
The new Lancet Breastfeeding Series finds that more than 800,000 child deaths could be prevented annually (about 13% percent of all under-5 child deaths) by improving rates of breastfeeding. Moreover, the costs of lower cognitive ability associated with not breastfeeding amount to more than $300 billion a year globally, a figure comparable to the entire global pharmaceutical market.
"We know that breastfeeding saves children's lives and improves their health and development, and also helps protect mothers' health," said Dr. Chessa Lutter, senior advisor on nutrition at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), and one of the series' authors. "Now we have evidence of economic and other benefits as well. Yet breastfeeding rates around the world are far below international targets, and policies and investments to promote breastfeeding are stagnating. We hope this new series will help to mobilize the new commitment and awareness that's needed to change the tide."
Lutter is co-author of "Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices?" The article summarizes the evidence in the series showing that breastfeeding contributes to "a world that is healthier, better educated, more equitable and more environmentally sustainable." Specific findings in the series include:
- Promoting breastfeeding would save more than 800,000 child lives a year — 87% of them infants under 6 months of age.
- Nearly half of all diarrhea episodes and one-third of all respiratory infections would be prevented with breastfeeding.
- For each of the first two years a mother breastfeeds over her lifetime, she decreases her risk of developing invasive breast cancer by 6 percent. She also benefits from reduced ovarian cancer risk.
- Approximately 20,000 breast cancer deaths are prevented each year by breastfeeding; improved rates could prevent another 20,000 deaths each year.
Despite these demonstrated benefits, women worldwide lack the necessary support they need to breastfeed and face daily barriers including limited or nonexistent maternity leave, gaps in knowledge among healthcare providers that leave women without access to accurate information or support, lack of strong support systems among family and community, and cultural traditions that are unsupportive of breastfeeding. In addition, aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes (including infant formula) by industry undermines breastfeeding.
To counter these negative forces, Lutter and co-authors urge efforts to:
- Foster positive societal attitudes toward breastfeeding, including in the workplace and in public.
- Disseminate widely growing evidence of breastfeeding's benefits for health and development.
- Scale up and monitor efforts to support women in breastfeeding to ensure optimal practices.
- Regulate the breast-milk substitute industry to prevent its marketing practices from undermining breastfeeding.
- Develop and pass legislation that protects and promotes breastfeeding, in compliance with the international Code.
For the full Lancet series on breastfeeding, visit: www.thelancet.com/series/breastfeeding
PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.
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