Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbilical cord has not yet been cut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Oxford University, Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology recently ran the Intergrowth-21st study, which head researcher Professor Jose Villar stated had observed almost 60,000 pregnancies in urban areas in Oman, Kenya, Italy, Brazil, China India, the UK and the USA, which had concluded that healthy, well nourished women tend to give birth to newborns which, the world over, are strikingly similar in size, averaging 19.45 inches in length.
A previously suggestion had been that that world-wide variation seen in the size of babies born was due to ethnicity and race, but this latest research indicates that, in fact, baby size has little to do with either of these factors. Things that do influence the child development are health, nutrition and education of the expectant mothers, alongside proper antenatal care, and the conclusion reached was that population diversity was responsible for no more than 4% of differences in foetal growth and birth size.
Scientists involved in the study conducted ultrasound scans to assess bone growth of foetuses, both in the womb, and upon being born, length and head circumference was measured for each baby. The research was one of the projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report stated that a similar start for all babies in the future could be achieved by ensuring that all pregnant women are both well-nourished and educated, proper treatment of infection and the provision of good antenatal care.
It is estimated that, as recently as 2010, around the world 32.4 million babies – 27% of all live births – were globally born undernourished, mostly in poorer countries, and it is well known that small birth size is associated with infant death and illness. Not only that, but this birth disadvantage carries increased risks of the child becoming diabetic, and suffering from heart disease and high blood pressure in later life.
Clinics worldwide currently evaluate size of newborns and foetal growth employing very many different standards, which causes huge amounts of confusion – as babies deemed in one country to be of healthy weight can, in another, be seen as too small – so what Intergrowth-21st ultimately aim to do is to provide internationally accepted standards for proper growth, not just of growing foetuses, but also children from newborns to five year-olds.
All the same, the message is very clear, in as much as it has been shown that pregnant women in good health, who are well nourished, will have similar size babies across the world, so health officials of all countries need to concentrate on providing the best possible maternal and child health care, to ensure that future kids all have the best start in life.
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