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It has been earlier suggested that race and ethnicity were the two most vital factors in determining the size of a baby at birth.
A major study led by researchers at Oxford University in the UK, and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, suggests that the varying levels of nutrition and health have a bigger influence on fetal growth and newborn size.
Researchers has shown that growth of babies in the womb and their size at birth, especially their length, are strikingly similar the world over – when babies are born to healthy, well-educated and well-nourished mothers.
‘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, Britain.
‘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,’ he added. ‘Do not say that women in some parts of the world have small children because they are predestined to do so. It is simply not true,’ Villar noted.
“This is very confusing for doctors and mothers and makes no biological sense. How can a fetus or a newborn be judged small in one clinic or hospital and treated accordingly, only for the mother to go to another city or country, and be told that her baby is growing normally,” said Professor Stephen Kennedy, University of Oxford, one of the senior authors of the paper.
The research included almost 60,000 pregnancies in eight defined urban areas in India, China, Brazil, Italy, Kenya, Oman, the United States and Britain.
In order to observe the bone growth in the womb the researchers performed ultrasound scans on expecting mothers from early pregnancy to delivery. They also measured the length and head circumference of all babies at birth.
It was discovered that a mother’s educational, health and nutritional status and care during pregnancy influenced more than race and ethnicity in determining newborn size.
The study aims at constructing new international standards clearly describing the optimal growth of the baby in the womb as well as a newborn.
“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.”
“The INTERGROWTH-21st results fit perfectly with the existing WHO standards for infants. The mean length at birth of the newborns in the INTERGROWTH-21st study was 49.4 ± 1.9 cm, compared with 49.5 ±1.9 cm in the WHO infant study,” researchers say.
The study, “The likeliness of fetal growth and newborn size across non-isolated populations in the INTERGROWTH-21st Project: the Fetal Growth Longitudinal Study and Newborn Cross-Sectional Study appeared in the journal The Lancet, Diabetes & Endocrinology.