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More Maternal Education Saves Children's Lives

Study found more than 4 million deaths prevented in 2009 by expanding schooling to women of childbearing age

FRIDAY, Sept. 17, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Increasing levels of education among women worldwide helped save the lives of millions of children a year, a new study shows.

Between 1970 and 2009, the average number of years of education among women aged 25 and older more than doubled. The increase was more than triple for women in poor countries.

During that same period, deaths among children under age 5 dropped from 16 million to 7.8 million a year. About 51 percent of that drop in children's deaths can be attributed to increased levels of education among women of childbearing age, according to the researchers.

That means that 4.2 million fewer children died in 2009 thanks to improved education for women, said Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues.

The study appears this week in a special issue of The Lancet.

"We know that direct health interventions, such as immunizations, preventive care, and hygiene classes, are crucial to improving health worldwide. What this study shows is that by focusing on education as well, we can increase the impact that we are having on health," Gakidou said in a journal news release.

The analysis of data from hundreds of countries showed that the global mean number of years of education a person aged 25 and older had received increased from 4.7 years to 8.3 years for men and from 3.5 years to 7.1 years for women. For women of childbearing age (15 to 44 years) in developing countries, the years of schooling increased from 2.2 years to 7.2 years.

More information

The World Health Organization has more about child health.

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Sept. 16, 2010.
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