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Jul 08, 2014 03:41 AM EDT

Children Born To Healthy Mothers Are Similar In Size at Birth, Study

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Healthy and well-educated mothers give birth to similar size babies worldwide, according to a University of Oxford study.

The finding of an international study "INTERGROWTH-21st" led by Oxford involved 60,000 pregnancies from eight urban areas - Brazil, China, Italy, India, Kenya, Oman, UK and the U.S.

Previous studies showed that race and ethnicity play an important role in differences in the sizes of newborn babies. However, the current study found evidence that the educational, health and nutritional status of the mother including care provided during pregnancy are largely responsible.

"Currently we are not all equal at birth. But we can be," said lead author Professor Jose Villar of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, in a press release. "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."

Researchers said that smaller-sized babies face a heightened risk of diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases in adulthood. They said that the problem encountered while improving pregnancy outcomes is that clinics around the world employ at least 100 different growth charts, meaning there are no current international standards for the fetus and newborn.

"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, one of the senior authors of the paper.

For the study, the researchers measured the bone growth of the baby in the womb by conducting ultrasound scans from early pregnancy to delivery. They also measured the length and head circumference of the babies after birth.

The researchers found that the INTERGROWTH-21st results is similar to that of existing WHO standards for infants. The mean length of the newborns at birth in the study was 49.4 ± 1.9 cm when compared to 49.5 ±1.9 cm in a WHO infant study.

The finding will be published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

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