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Press Centre (6/2013)

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

Lancet says malnutrition is responsible for over 3 million child deaths annually NEW YORK - UNICEF said yesterday 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.



UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

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For further information, please contact:

Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Deputy Director of Communication New York/London, Mobile +1 917 310

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Peter Smerdon, UNICEF New York, Tel: +1 212 303 7984, Mobile:+1 917 213 5188, psmerdon@unicef.org

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