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Size of Newborns Similar in Healthy Pregnancies Around the Globe

First Posted: Jul 07, 2014 11:41 AM EDT

Previous studies have suggested that ‘race' or ‘ethnicity' are primarily responsible for different sizes of newborns. Now, a recent study conducted by researchers at Oxford University shows that health may be the principal reason for this range. The results are part of a landmark international study, INTERGROWTH 21st.

"Currently we are not all equal at birth. But we can be," said the lead author Professor Jose Villar of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Oxford, via a news release. "We can create a similar start for all by making sure mothers are well educated and nourished, by treating infection and by providing adequate antenatal care.

"Don't tell us nothing can be done. Don't say that women in some parts of the world have small children because they are predestined to do so. It's simply not true."

For the study, researchers carried out ultrasound scans from early pregnancy to delivery in order to measure babies' bone growth in the womb. The study examined 60,000 pregnancies in eight defined urban areas, including Brazil, China, India, Italy, Kenya, Oman, the UK and the United States.

Here are key points from the findings, courtesy of the release.
• Babies' bone growth in the womb and their length and head circumference at birth are strikingly similar the world over - when babies are born to educated, healthy and well-nourished mothers.
• Overall, no more than 4% of the total difference in fetal growth and birth size could be attributed to differences between the eight populations in the study.
• Improving the education, health and nutrition of mothers everywhere will boost the health of their babies throughout life within the next generation.
• Results are in complete agreement with the previous WHO study using the same methodology from birth to 5 years of age.

Researchers said they believe that a significant part of the problem for varying sizes is due to undernourishment in low- and middle-income countries. In fact, researchers estimate that 27 percent of individuals deal with lack of proper resources.

With improving pregnancy outcomes for both fetal growth and newborn size, officials said they hope to offer more support and construct international standards for optimal infant growth in the womb and as a newborn.

These findings were then compared to the WHO's Multicentre Growth Reference Study on healthy infants and children, which established international growth standards from birth to 5 years in over 140 countries.

"The INTERGROWTH-21st results fit perfectly with the existing WHO Infant and Child Growth Standards," concluded Professor Ruyan Pang of Peking University in China. "Having international standards of optimal growth from conception to 5 years of age that everyone in the world can use means it will now be possible to evaluate improvements in health and nutrition using the same yardstick."

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