UN agency issues new child growth standards in effort to improve global

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today issued new global guidelines on measuring the growth rates of infants and young children that will provide evidence and guidance for the first time about how every child should grow, thereby highlighting when improvements in nutrition or other areas need to be made and reducing death and disease. With these new standards, parents, doctors, policymakers and child advocates will know when the nutrition and healthcare needs of children are not being met so that under-nutrition, as well as other growth-related conditions, can then be detected and addressed at an early stage, WHO said in a news release. “The WHO Child Growth Standards provide new means to support every child to get the best chance to develop in the most important formative years,” said Dr. Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO. “In this regard, this tool will serve to reduce death and disease in infants and young children.” The new Standards are the result of an intensive study initiated by WHO in 1997 to develop a new international standard for assessing the physical growth, nutritional status and motor development in all children from birth to age five. WHO and its principal partner, the UN University, undertook the Multicentre Growth Reference Study, which involved more than 8,000 children from Brazil, Ghana, India, Norway, Oman and the United States. “We’ve demonstrated unequivocally that all children whose health needs are met have very similar potential for growth, whether they’re born as far north as Norway or as far south as India,” Dr. Cutberto Garza, Director of the UN University Food and Nutrition Program and Chair of the Study, told reporters at a news briefing in New York to welcome the launch of the new Standards. The first of this set of new growth charts to be released includes growth indicators such as weight-for-age, length/height-for-age, and weight-for-length/height. For the first time, there now exists a Body Mass Index (BMI) standard for children up to age five, as well as the Windows of Achievement standard for six key motor development milestones such as sitting, standing and walking.

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