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Resolute leadership and steadfast commitment are key to winning the battle against undernutrition

2013-06-06

Lancet says malnutrition is responsible for over 3 million child deaths annually

NEW YORK, 5 June 2013 – UNICEF said today that new research published in the Lancet on maternal and child nutrition reinforces the need for resolute leadership and steadfast commitment at national and global levels to win the battle against undernutrition.

“The battle against undernutrition is being won, but progress is too slow for too many,” said Werner Schultink, UNICEF’s head of nutrition. “We must now step up the pace so more children don’t join the 165 million children who are stunted and to save many millions more children suffering from other forms of undernutrition.”

The Lancet paper identified additional nutrition-related causes of mortality that increased the number of deaths of children under five caused by malnutrition to 3.1 million deaths annually or 45 per cent of all under-5 deaths, compared to the journal’s last estimates in 2008. The study found that children born too small for their gestational age – more than a quarter of births in low- and middle-income countries – were at a substantially greater risk of dying.

“Our message is clear – that the time is now for all of us to demonstrate resolute leadership and steadfast commitment for the millions of mothers and children who still fall victim to undernutrition,” said Mr. Schultink.

The new analysis was published on the eve of a London summit hosted by the governments of Brazil and the United Kingdom and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) to focus on tackling undernutrition and agree on cutting the number of stunted children by an additional 20 million in the 20 highest burden countries by 2020 through new commitments by governments, the private sector and agencies.

UNICEF says that investing in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life shapes the future of nations. Ending stunting and other forms of undernutrition saves lives and improves health, prospects for children and development progress. “This is why the fight against undernutrition has to be a global imperative for donors, for affected countries, for innovators in the private sector and for communities themselves,” said Schultink.

“That’s the sort of shared commitment we see in the Scaling up Nutrition Network, where 40 countries are already taking tangible steps to increase and better target investments and sharpen policies and nutrition-focused programmes.”

A UNICEF report, Improving Child Nutrition: the achievable imperative for global progress, in April highlighted how undernutrition can be reduced through proven interventions, such as promoting exclusive breastfeeding, addressing micronutrient deficiencies and improving maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy.

The Lancet reports that undernutrition reduces a nation’s economic advancement by at least eight per cent because of direct productivity losses, losses via poorer cognition and losses via reduced schooling, while other experts have shown that a US$1 investment in reducing chronic malnutrition can deliver a US$30 return through improved health and education benefits.

As leaders gathered in London, civil society groups such as the Enough Food for Everyone IF coalition – made up of more than 200 organizations campaigning for action by the G8 on the issue of global hunger – are playing an effective role in raising the volume of discussion about child malnutrition.

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About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries – more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.