Maternal Health Task Force

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“Taking Measure of Growth Charts” Published in The Wall Street Journal

By: Alison Chatfield, Project Manager, Maternal Health Task Force, Women and Health Initiative

Are newborn growth charts one size fits all? Are growth charts developed based on how babies in the U.S. have grown in the past applicable in the U.S. today, or to countries around the world? Is it possible to create truly global standards for how a baby should grow?

These are the questions at the heart of a new article published in The Wall Street Journal by Jo Craven McGrinty. Current practice has physicians assess a newborn’s weight and length against growth charts generated from data on previous births in the country they live in. This practice could work if a country’s population is completely healthy, and therefore provides an optimal standard for comparison. But, if it isn’t, then using population-specific standards can lead to certain characteristics of poor growth becoming institutionalized. What is needed are growth standards that provide an indication of how babies should grow under optimal conditions, rather than comparing growth to how babies have grown in the past.

Enter, the INTERGROWTH-21st Project. The INTERGROWTH-21st Project has created globally validated growth standards that provide a universal norm of how babies shouldgrow under optimal conditions. By including approximately 60,000 healthy women from eight countries in the study, the project was able to develop true norms for fetal growth and newborn size that can be used in any country.

Like the WHO Child Growth Standards before it, the INTERGROWTH-21st charts are poised to replace national-level growth references that describe how babies have grown in the past. The article ends on a forward-looking note, acknowledging that the INTERGROWTH-21st charts are just one of several assessment tools that are needed to inform interventions to improve maternal and newborn health, “but measurements pegged to good health are a start,” McGrinty concludes.

The full article can be found at the Wall Street Journal.

This article was reposted from the INTERGROWTH-21st blog.

Categories: Cross-post Maternal Health

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