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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Report ranks Norway No. 1 for moms, Niger worst and U.S.? Meh

It's always enlightening to see how the U.S. ranks with the rest of the world when it comes to mothers. The Save the Children's State of the World's Mothers report, which was released today, shows the U.S. has climbed a few notches on the report's Mothers' Index this year, but we still are far from the top. This year, they also did a separate scorecard and looked at how the U.S. compares to other industrialized countries  when it comes to policies that create a favorable environment for moms who choose to breastfeed. We come in dead last.

The report finds that Norwaymakes it easiest to be a mother; Niger os the worst -- replacing Afghanistan for the first time in two years. Norway comes in at first place. The ranking compares 165 countries around the globe, and looks at factors such as a mother's health, education and economic status, as well as critical child indicators such as health and nutrition.  This year, the United States ranks 25th.  

“While the U.S. has moved up in the rankings, ahead of last year’s 31st place, we still fall below most wealthy nations,” said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children.  “A woman in the U.S. is more than 7 times as likely to die of a pregnancy-related cause in her lifetime than a woman in Italy or Ireland.  When it comes to the number of children enrolled in preschools or the political status of women, the United States also places in the bottom 10 countries of the developed world.”

President Obama is expected to discuss food and agriculture at this year's G8 meeting, so the report focuses on nutrition as one of the key factors in determining mothers' and their children's well-being.  Malnutrition is the underlying cause of at least a fifth of maternal mortality and more than a third of child deaths.

Of the ten countries at the bottom of Save the Children's annual index, seven are in the midst of a food crisis. Niger, in bottom place, is currently in the grip of a worsening hunger situation, threatening the lives of a million children. Four of the bottom ten countries have seen an increase in stunting over the past two decades - where children's mental and physical growth is permanently blighted by malnutrition.

The report details a vicious cycle of young mothers, who may themselves have been stunted in childhood, going on to give birth to underweight babies who have not been adequately nourished in the womb. If a mother is impoverished, overworked, poorly educated and in poor health, she may not be able to feed the baby adequately, with largely irreversible effects.  Save the Children notes that in sub-Saharan Africa, up to 20% of women are classified as excessively thin, while that figure rises to up to 35 percent in South Asia. The report highlights that the best method for breaking this cycle and protecting the pregnant mother and her baby from malnutrition is to focus on the first 1000 days starting from pregnancy.

Save the Children called for more global action to tackle the cycle of maternal and child malnutrition when G8 leaders gather in Camp David in two weeks’ time. "The 2012 State of the World's Mothers report shows clearly that this crisis of chronic malnutrition has devastating effects on both mothers and their children,” said Miles. “We urgently need global leadership on the malnutrition issue, so that policies and programs are put in place to ensure the health and survival of mothers and their babies.”

In new research for the report, Save the Children found that the simple measure of supporting mothers to breastfeed could save one million children's lives a year.  Yet the report also shows that less than 40% of all infants in developing countries receive the full benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. This is due, in part, to countries lacking strong commitment and complimentary programs that enable mothers to breastfeed. When the two do combine, the report shows that it can have success even in low-income countries, as it has done in Malawi and Madagascar.

 “Our research shows that a mother’s breast milk - one single nutrition intervention - can save a million children’s lives each year,” said Miles. “All mothers should have the support they need to choose to breastfeed if they want to. Breastfeeding is good for babies no matter where they live, but in developing countries, especially those without access to clean water, breastfeeding can be a matter of life or death.”

Policy Recommendations:

--The G8 delivers bold commitments to tackle the global hidden crisis of chronic malnutrition, blighting the lives of millions of mothers and children

--All governments make fighting malnutrition a priority, setting targets for their own countries and around the world

--Developing country governments should scale up nutrition programs around the first 1000 days, from a mother's pregnancy to the child's second birthday

--Developing country governments must commit and fund national nutrition plans of action - including breastfeeding - that are aligned with plans for maternal and child health

--Donor countries should continue to keep their commitments to deliver their international assistance budgets, so that governments can continue to invest in global health and development, including nutrition.

Visit www.savethechildren.org for information on their campaign for children.

Follow us on Twitter @WhoaMomma

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 7:31am]

    

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