Susannah Schaefer, CEO, Smile Train

The Global Effect of a Smile

To celebrate National Smile Month (15th June - 15th July), Susannah Schaefer, CEO of the international children’s charity, Smile Train, reveals the many benefits associated with smiling, and the power that smiling can have on a global scale.

Scientific research has shown that smiling, or seeing a smile, is contagious and can stimulate happy thoughts – even if you don’t feel happy at the time. And the physical benefits associated with smiling do not stop there. For example, did you know that…?

 Smiling is a universal sign of happiness and one of the few gestures which means the same thing all around the globe. This means that you can travel anywhere in the world and communicate happiness.

 Smiling lowers stress as it impacts certain muscles within the body which make you feel happy. The movement of muscles in your face releases chemicals called endorphins which trigger a positive feeling. These endorphins lower stress levels, which improves your mood.

 Smiling boosts your immune system as it encourages the release of serotonin. Like endorphins, serotonin is a neurotransmitter which contributes to a person’s happiness and wellbeing.

These points are reiterated by the fact that research has also shown that smiling can positively impact heart function. In my capacity as CEO of Smile Train, I am fortunate enough to see the life changing impact that bringing a smile to a child’s face through cleft repair surgery has every day.

To put this into context - in the UK, children born with cleft lip and/or cleft palate are usually treated very early on in life through the NHS. These children can then go on to lead healthy lives. However, unfortunately across much of the developing world, this is not the case as children with untreated clefts face many challenges including difficulties eating and breathing, being denied access to education, and being shunned by their communities.

Therefore, when a child in the developing world receives free cleft repair surgery it is a life-saving experience, as it opens the door to a whole new world of possibilities.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal Global Health draws further attention to this issue. The study, entitled ‘Economic valuation of the impact of a large surgical charity using the value of lost welfare approach’, leveraged Smile Train’s data and was carried out by a team of experts, including researchers from Harvard University.

The study analysed the long-term economic benefits of providing free cleft repair surgery to children in developing countries, and found that a single cleft repair enhances individual earnings by up to $42,000 per patient, which in turn can lead to a global economic boost of up to $20 billion.

Assessing the economic impact of treating untreated clefts shines a light on how creating new smiles can have a positive effect on communities across the developing world.

In the UK, and throughout much of western society, we don’t see the full impact that having a craniofacial condition such as cleft lip and/or palate can have on a family however, through research such as this we can clearly see how treating children with conditions such as these can transform not only their lives but also their communities as a whole.

So, next time a friend passes on some good news and brings a smile to your face, or you share a joke with a colleague – don’t take that smile for granted, and keep in mind that across the globe a smile can mean so much more than a simple facial movement.

Read more about Smile Train here smiletrain.org.uk

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