The importance of breastfeeding is not limited to health benefits. Higher rates of breastfeeding reap economic benefits too, which in turn can alleviate the strain of poverty in developing nations.

According to a series of studies published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, if a greater number of women breastfed from birth through at least six months of their baby’s life, it could save nearly 820,000 lives and billions of dollars.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that if 50 to 75 percent of mothers breastfed through six months, the U.S. alone would save $3.6 billion each year.

The actual savings could be even higher, as these figures come from the cost savings of only three illnesses that are most common among children who are not breastfed. Breastfeeding reduces the risk factor of many other diseases and health complications as well.

In poorer countries, breastfeeding substantially reduces the number of childhood deaths from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea.

These diseases are most commonly found in children in poor and underdeveloped countries, which typically already suffer huge economic losses from health problems.

Not only can breastfeeding greatly reduce the risk of these health problems, it can also save millions that would be spent treating these diseases after the fact.

The continued evidence of the importance of breastfeeding is greatly heartening. The difficulty is in getting this critical information to the women who need it most.

As a Huffington Post article explains, the real and current battle involves increasing awareness and education specifically to poorer mothers about the importance of breastfeeding.

Investments in healthcare programs in developing countries should continue focusing on health education, with a strong priority on basic elements of women’s health.

By increasing awareness of women’s health, including the importance of breastfeeding, countries can save many precious lives and valuable resources.

Emily Milakovic

Photo: Flickr

Most Muslims who fast during the month-long Islamic festival of Ramadan do so under direction from the Quran, but those who abstain from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours may also experience health benefits as a result.

If done right, those who participate in fasting during Ramadan can not only see a rise in spirituality and giving, but also health benefits such as weight loss and overcoming addictions.

It’s possible to see benefits from fasting during Ramadan because food consumption is often different from usual diets, as malnutrition and insufficient calorie intake are avoided during the religious holiday.

Fasting during Ramadan can help lead to weight loss because the body’s energy is replaced during the eating periods. Instead of using glucose as the principal source of energy, the body instead turns to fat, which prevents muscle from breaking down for protein.

Using fat as energy instead of glucose preserves the muscles, in turn reducing cholesterol levels, helping with weight loss. In doing so, blood pressure can improve and be controlled better.

A study by the Annals of Nutrition Metabolism in 1997 showed just this. Results of the study revealed that, by fasting, LDL cholesterol levels, the bad lipoproteins, dropped by 8%, whereas HDL cholesterol levels, the good lipoproteins, rose by 14.3%.

Such a phenomenon can be explained by the eating and exercise behaviors of those who fast during Ramadan. Studies have shown that people often turn to healthier options during the holiday, which reduces saturated fat consumption.

Such studies have also seen an increase in physical activity during Ramadan, as exercise from the night prayers, known as “tawarih,” may be equivalent to moderate physical activity for some.

Fasting can also help those with addictions. Though self-restraint, another teaching of Ramadan, the body goes through a detoxification process, which in turn can help those who fast overcome additions such as smoking.

By understanding the teachings of self-restraint and learning from them, those who fast may find it easier to forget addictions during the day when fasting occurs.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Al Arabiya News, Mosque of Tucson, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, National Health Service of England
Photo: Flickr

art education
The value of art education is constantly under debate, with classes in the arts often pulled first from underfunded curricula. Research, however, has shown the value of educating people in these subjects. The arts provide physiological and economic benefits, and some African countries are working to encourage creative pursuits in their populations.

The World Health Organization’s definition of health includes more than just a lack of disease. Creative endeavors can improve a person’s mood and emotions. Simply watching the activity can provide benefits, too.

A more tangible benefit includes a higher participation in school. This ranges from increased attendance and participation, to increased teamwork skills among peers. People also use the arts to provide students with an alternative to drugs.

This value in education spills over into the workforce. People who engage in the arts are better at creative thinking and have a greater ability to adapt to new situations and visualize alternatives.

The arts are also helpful in fighting health problems. Many cultures have traditions of using pictures, stories, dances or chants to fight disease. Creative activities reduce chronic stress and lessen depression, both of which can become contributing factors to heart disease and diabetes. These issues are already prevalent in the U.S. and are increasingly becoming an issue in the developing world.

The arts, as they are commonly grouped together, include music, creative movement, writing and visual arts.

Studies have shown that music decreases anxiety and helps restore emotional balance, as well as control pain. Learning the notation involved in reading music has also been shown to increase students’ math skills.

Visual arts have been shown to help people deal with difficult realities, such as a cancer diagnosis. They help with emotional expression and improve reading skills.

Other studies have shown that creative movement, such as dance, improves mobility and decreases stress. Some participants show improved cognition.

Writing has been shown to help people control their emotions, as well as to control pain levels temporarily. One study showed that writing decreased the CD4+ lymphocyte, which is associated with HIV.

Many places are picking up on the value of art. In September, the Africa Utopia art festival will take place in Somaliland, giving African performers a venue to express their art. The African Metropolis film festival was held recently, and it included six urban films from directors of different cities. The cities represented were Abidjan, Cairo, Dakar, Johannesburg, Lagos and Nairobi.

Other groups are allowing youth to get their first taste of creative expression. In Belltown, Kenya, there is a gallery of photographs by Meg Stacker. While she took the pictures herself, many of the pieces are overlaid with six word memoirs by the subjects, giving them an opportunity to express themselves as well.

Other students in Gambia had the opportunity to photograph their homes. A UK photography student held a workshop for students, most of whom had never operated a camera before. In this way, students were able to express their views of their homeland.

On top of the mental and physiological benefits, many students in the U.S. want to see more art education. Art education would provide the same benefits and appeal to African students, as well.

– Monica Roth

Sources: US National Library of Medicine, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Atlantic, GHAFLA, Goethe, Fast Company, Seattle Globalist, The Artery
Photo: Kickstarter

breastfeeding Indonesia

In the world’s fourth most populated country, Indonesia, exclusive breastfeeding is less popular than one might think. Despite the well documented health benefits of breastfeeding such as healthy weight and naturally created nutrients, an Indonesian Demographic and Health Survey from 2002 and 2003 reported that only 14% of women in Indonesia breastfeed. In a more recent study, breast-feeding fell by 10% between 2007 and 2008.

These statistics prove to be disturbing in a country where, according to UNICEF, 37% of children suffer from malnutrition and stunting that results in the delay of mental and physical development which also leads to disease susceptibility. In a search to remedy the situation, formula companies are facing new laws and regulations that will prevent them from targeting mothers with children under the age of one. The Indonesian government estimates that 30,000 young children could be saved simply by being exclusively breastfed until the age of six months. After the six month bench mark, mothers are encouraged to supplement the diet with other foods.

Laws are already in place promoting breastfeeding, but do not have any repercussions for violation. The new laws will enforce the current regulations as well as implement new regulations for formula companies. Iip Syaiful, a nutrition expert from the Ministry of Health, said that the new laws will penalize companies and individuals that “intentionally hamper exclusive breastfeeding” and could face jail terms up to one year or maximum fines of US$32,000.

Regardless of the current laws, many women in Indonesia are guided towards formula use soon after giving birth. The Health Ministry admitted many health workers had “not received the knowledge about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding”.

– Kira Maixner
Source Irin News
Photo Kalyanamitra