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Hunger Blamed for a Third of Deaths in Children Under 5

New studies call for more money for nutritional services and improvements in health systems for mothers and children. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

New research says thirty-five percent of all child deaths worldwide are caused by undernutrition -- hunger. The Lancet, the British medical magazine, just published a series of five studies. The answer, they suggest, is greater investment in nutritional services and improvements to health systems.

The research involved poor to middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Robert Black from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland was the lead author of the series. He says more than three and one-half million mothers and children under five die in poor countries each year because of undernutrition.

He says more than two million children die from underdevelopment, either before or after birth, or from severe wasting. Millions of others who survive face a lifetime of disabilities or early death.

And the effects are not just physical. Poor brain development from poor nutrition can limit economic success as children become adults. Then the cycle of poverty and undernutrition often repeats for their children.

Doctor Black says undernourished children are also more likely to have conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease as adults.

He says the studies show that nutrition programs need to place greater importance on the first two years of life. Undernourished children can suffer permanent damage by age two.

The researchers say mothers should be urged to breastfeed and taught how to breastfeed correctly. Also, diets should include foods rich in vitamin A and the mineral zinc. The researchers say early interventions like these could reduce child deaths by twenty-five percent.

Undernutrition is one form of malnutrition, but malnutrition can also mean eating too much.

The Lancet series on maternal and child nutrition has faced some criticism. The international group Doctors Without Borders praised the series for calling for greater attention to the issue. But the medical aid group says the researchers underestimate the number of child deaths from malnutrition.

And it criticized them for not strongly supporting new efforts to replace hospital care with community- and home-based care. This involves giving children nutritionally dense products called ready-to-use food. The researchers say there are findings that support this treatment but more studies are needed to compare it to hospital care.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Mario Ritter.