The Best Start in Life – Breastfeeding for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases and the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in the WHO European Region

WHO/Malin Bring

7–8 November 2018, Moscow, Russian Federation

The WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD Office) will host an international conference of key stakeholders working in areas related to maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, and appropriate feeding of infants and young children to prevent NCDs.

The conference on 7–8 November 2018 will provide a space for discussing best practices in these areas and for sharing experience in implementing measures to protect breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding practices, including the full implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

Additionally, the conference will feature discussion on the role of the health sector – including maternity, newborn and child health services – in promoting healthy maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, and appropriate feeding of infants and young children. The event aims to showcase success stories and innovative practices.

Finally, participants will help draft a statement affirming their commitment to promoting healthy maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, and appropriate feeding of infants and young children.

The conference will gather health and education professionals; researchers; civil society activists and representatives of nongovernmental organizations advocating for breastfeeding; regional and national policy-makers; and WHO experts.

Background

NCDs are the leading cause of death and disability in the Region and pose major challenges to the development of societies. Nutritional risk factors, including unhealthy diets and excess body weight, are major drivers underpinning these trends.

At the same time, some parts of the Region also face persistent challenges related to inadequate nutrition – the so-called double burden of malnutrition – with unacceptably high rates of anaemia, underweight and stunting found among pockets of the population.

There is strong evidence that healthy maternal nutrition, exclusive breastfeeding and optimal feeding practices among infants and young children are critical to ensure appropriate growth and development and to reduce the risk of developing NCDs, for both mothers and children, across the life-course.

However, exclusive breastfeeding rates in the Region are stalling at very low levels, inappropriate complementary feeding practices are widespread, dietary quality is far from meeting recommendations, and overweight and obesity are highly prevalent among women of reproductive age.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.4 aims to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by one third by 2030. Preventing and controlling NCDs requires a life-course approach to nutrition, which is also one of the key concepts of Health 2020.

In addition, SDG 2.2 aims to end all forms of malnutrition (including to achieve internationally agreed targets on stunting in children under 5 years of age) and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older people. Given the current situation, a renewed focus in Europe on this critical window – from pre-pregnancy through the early years – is needed.

Member States in the Region adopted the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 and agreed on a number of actions to improve the nutrition status of the population. Maternal nutrition, breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding play a central role in these actions.

Specifically, the Action Plan calls on Member States to invest in nutrition at the earliest possible stage: before and during pregnancy. This includes protecting, promoting, supporting and addressing barriers to adequate breastfeeding, while also providing support for appropriate complementary feeding.

Healthy maternal nutrition and breastfeeding are key actions highlighted in the Region’s Action Plan for Sexual and Reproductive Health and the European Child and Adolescent Health Strategy 2015–2020. Commitments made by Member States and the Secretariat include increasing measures to protect and promote breastfeeding (including through policies and standards supported by education about the benefits of breastfeeding) and promoting a healthy diet and nutrition before conception, during pregnancy, and for infants and young children.

In this context, Member States committed to implement comprehensive monitoring to achieve the standards set out in the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (or standards that are of equal or greater strictness), and to strengthen the capacity of health providers and services to support optimal child feeding through appropriate training, good maternity care practices and early childhood services to promote breastfeeding.

For more information, please contact Marina Bykova at bykovam@who.int, or Julianne Williams at williamsj@who.int.