Objective: To evaluate maternal comprehension of growth charts used in growth monitoring and promotion (GMP), a worldwide programme with important budgets but contrasting results.
Methods: Systematic literature review through MEDLINE, POPLINE, Global Health, ERIC and the Cochrane Library with the keywords 'growth monitoring' or 'growth chart' limited to the title/abstract field and to the 0-5 years age range.
Results: Twenty studies from Asia (8), Africa (8) and Latin America/Caribbean (3) were included in the review. The results of the 14 non-intervention, cross-sectional studies provide convincing evidence that a third to three-fourths of carers in developing countries do not understand the growth charts. Literacy had a strong effect on women's ability to interpret the cards. Appropriate training and educational activities also increased substantially maternal comprehension as demonstrated in five of the six intervention trials.
Conclusions: Many carers have poor comprehension of growth charts, but their comprehension increases not only with literacy, but also with training. Activities aimed at improving communication skills of health staff and at empowering parents to practice responsive parenting could greatly improve GMP outcomes.