London: In a move to combat stunting and obesity, researchers have developed new international standards for foetal growth and newborn size to provide the first accurate measurements of ideal growth and development from conception to birth.
Healthcare practitioners already have the international growth standards by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for children since birth that are used in 140 countries worldwide.
"With these new international standards, we will know when the nutrition and healthcare needs of the developing baby are not being met," said lead study author Jose Villar, a professor of perinatal medicine at Oxford University.
Across the world, these new standards will help identify signs of under-nutrition, stunting and overweight at an earlier stage to implement preventive actions to reduce long term health problems such as diabetes and hypertension, he said.
The study called "INTERGROWTH-21st Project" collected growth and size data, using the same equipment and methods, from eight diverse populations of babies born to 4,607 healthy, well-nourished women in selected urban areas in Brazil, China, India, Italy, Kenya, Oman, the UK and the US.
Women were selected based on an ideal environment for healthy growth, such as adequate nutrition, education, low environmental contaminants and good healthcare.
To generate the first international standards for foetal growth, ultrasound scans were performed every five weeks from early pregnancy (14 weeks) to delivery to assess five growth measures - head circumference, biparietal diameter, occipitofrontal diameter, abdominal circumference and femur length.
These new standards depict a healthy pattern of growth that is desirable for all foetuses and newborns everywhere, regardless of ethnic origin.
"These new standards allow, for the first time, international comparisons of newborn size from 33 to 42 weeks' gestation. From now on, international standards can be used worldwide to make judgements on growth and size from conception to five years," Villar concluded.