The cost of not breastfeeding: global results from a new tool

Health Policy Plan. 2019 Jul 1;34(6):407-417. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czz050.


Evidence shows that breastfeeding has many health, human capital and future economic benefits for young children, their mothers and countries. The new Cost of Not Breastfeeding tool, based on open access data, was developed to help policy-makers and advocates have information on the estimated human and economic costs of not breastfeeding at the country, regional and global levels. The results of the analysis using the tool show that 595 379 childhood deaths (6 to 59 months) from diarrhoea and pneumonia each year can be attributed to not breastfeeding according to global recommendations from WHO and UNICEF. It also estimates that 974 956 cases of childhood obesity can be attributed to not breastfeeding according to recommendations each year. For women, breastfeeding is estimated to have the potential to prevent 98 243 deaths from breast and ovarian cancers as well as type II diabetes each year. This level of avoidable morbidity and mortality translates into global health system treatment costs of US$1.1 billion annually. The economic losses of premature child and women's mortality are estimated to equal US$53.7 billion in future lost earnings each year. The largest component of economic losses, however, is the cognitive losses, which are estimated to equal US$285.4 billion annually. Aggregating these costs, the total global economic losses are estimated to be US$341.3 billion, or 0.70% of global gross national income. While the aim of the tool is to capture the majority of the costs, the estimates are likely to be conservative since economic costs of increased household caregiving time (mainly borne by women), and treatment costs related to other diseases attributable to not breastfeeding according to recommendations are not included in the analysis. This study illustrates the substantial costs of not breastfeeding, and potential economic benefits that could be generated by government and development partners' investments in scaling up effective breastfeeding promotion and support strategies.

Keywords: Breastfeeding; economic evaluation; maternal and child health; nutrition.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding / economics*
  • Breast Feeding / trends*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis*
  • Female
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality / trends
  • Maternal-Child Health Services
  • Surveys and Questionnaires