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Press release

Taking early childhood nutrition to heart

UNICEF welcomes new studies linking good nutrition in first five years of life to reduced risk of heart disease

NEW YORK/GENEVA, 24 September 2004 – Healthy hearts begin in childhood, according to new studies linking good nutrition for children under the age of five to reduced risk of heart disease later in life.

As the world prepares to celebrate World Heart Day on 26 September, recent research is indicating that early infant feeding, especially exclusive and continued breastfeeding, is associated with less obesity and reduction in other heart risk factors throughout childhood and into adulthood.

World Heart Day is sponsored by the World Heart Federation and its member societies in over 100 countries.

“These studies provides evidence to support the critical link between giving children the best nutritional start in life and seeing them thrive as healthy adults”, says Dr. Miriam Labbok, Senior Advisor, Infant and Young Child Feeding and Care at UNICEF. 

The latest research comes from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and a CDC analysis of childhood obesity.  These studies indicate that proper early infant feeding, especially exclusive and continued breastfeeding, is associated with less obesity and reduction in other heart risk factors throughout childhood and into adulthood. 

ALSPAC researchers followed a representative sample of 4000 children over a number of years to assess the impact of breastfeeding on blood pressure, a major contributor to heart disease. The results were startling: after controlling for many possible maternal and child factors, there was a measurable blood pressure reduction for each 3 months of breastfeeding among the children at age 7 years.  In the US and the UK alone, this would amount to a reduction in 10,000 deaths every year.

September 26 marks the fifth celebration of World Heart Day.  This year’s campaign is aimed at children, adolescents and heart disease.  The focus will be on highlighting unhealthy lifestyles, particularly poor eating habits, physical inactivity and smoking.

While children all over the world suffer from the impact of unbalanced diets and lack of exercise, the poorest suffer most.  Lack of exclusive breastfeeding kills more than a million children every year while poor nutrition contributes to more than half of all preventable child deaths. 

Meanwhile, in richer nations, food may be plentiful but not always nourishing.  Poor diets and sedentary lifestyles are making childhood obesity a serious and growing health problem worldwide.

Making sure that children get the best nutritional care during their early years is at the core of UNICEF’s work to help children survive and thrive. UNICEF’s programmes include vitamin and mineral supplementation, support for exclusive and continued breastfeeding with complementary feeding, and educating families about good nutrition. Through the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, UNICEF continues to stress the urgent need to promote exclusive breastfeeding as fundamental to child survival efforts worldwide.

“All children have the same basic needs: proper infant feeding – exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding with nutrient-rich complementary foods - and diets that are balanced with adequate vitamins and minerals and appropriate exercise,” says Dr. Labbok.  “These factors can protect children against infection, heart disease, diabetes and even certain forms of cancer.  Simply put, good early childhood nutrition saves lives.”

UNICEF applauds the efforts of the World Heart Federation and its members to call attention to these issues, call upon them to increase attention to the importance of breastfeeding, and joins with them in celebrating World Heart Day.

For further information, please contact:

Claire Hajaj, UNICEF New York, +1 212 326 7566, chajaj@unicef.org
Lauren O'Brien, The World Heart Federation, +41 22 908 4074, laureno'brien@ch.cohnwolfe.com




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