Magazine article Science News

Parents Don't Always Know Best

Magazine article Science News

Parents Don't Always Know Best

Article excerpt

More children in Asia and Africa die from their parents' ignorance about how and when to wean them than die from famine, according to a new study on factors affecting child health by the Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute. Similarly, the report says, more children die because of their parents" ignorance in managing diarrhea than because of epidemics. In fact, says William Chandler, the study's author, roughly two-thirds of the 17 million children who die annually from the effects of poor nutrition, diarrhea, pneumonia, tetanus and several childhood diseases--mostly in the poorest, developing countries--might have been saved if their parents had received a better basic education, access to primary health care (including low-cost vaccinations against childhood diseases), guidance in family planning and better agricultural tools.

For example, though weaning should begin by the time a child is 6 or 7 months old, Chandler notes that in Africa many women wait until the child is 18 months or older. Then, at weaning, many of these children receive only adult food that is hard to chew or that offers insufficient nourishment. He says the resulting malnutrition each year kills 10 times as many children as does famine.

Spacing and timing of pregnancies is also an important factor in infant survival, and one where family planning would offer the greatest benefit, Chandler says. Data he cites suggest that avoiding age-related high-risk pregnancies--those in women under 20 or over 35--would reduce infant mortality 5 percent. …

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