Standards for the measurement of birth weight, length and head circumference at term in neonates of European, Chinese and South Asian ancestry

Open Med. 2007 Jul 10;1(2):e74-88.


Background: Fetal growth restriction is associated with metabolic derangements in the newborn, impaired functioning in childhood and chronic diseases in adulthood. Differences between ethnic groups with respect to fetal growth may result in the misclassification of constitutionally small or large babies as having abnormal growth for their gestational age. We have developed intrauterine growth charts based on precise measurements of newborns whose parents were both of European, Chinese or South Asian ethnicity.

Methods: Weight, length and head circumference were measured in 2695 infants born to healthy non-smoking mothers in British Columbia at 37-41 completed weeks of gestation. Gestational age was confirmed by ultrasound before 20 weeks of gestation. Weight was measured by digital scale, length by stadiometer and head circumference by firm plastic tape measures. Means and 95% confidence intervals were compared among newborns grouped by ethnicity and sex. Smoothed graphs were constructed for visual interpretation.

Results: At 40 weeks, infants of European descent ("European" infants) weighed 225.5 g more on average than infants of Chinese descent ("Chinese" infants) (p < 0.001) and 254.6 g more than infants of South Asian descent ("South Asian" infants) (p < 0.001). The mean difference in birth weight between Chinese and South Asian infants (19.1 g) was not statistically significant. The mean length of European infants at 40 weeks of gestation was 0.89 cm greater than that of Chinese infants (p < 0.001). Differences in mean length between European and South Asian babies or between Chinese and South Asian babies was not statistically significant. The mean head circumferance of European babies was 0.50 cm larger than that of Chinese babies at 40 weeks (p < 0.001) but did not differ significantly from that of South Asian babies. South Asian and Chinese babies had similar mean head circumferences at 40 weeks. When differences in mean birth weight, length and head circumference were examined within boys and girls, the observed differences according to ethnicity remained statistically significant.

Conclusion: Important differences in weight, length and head circumferences are reported among babies according to ethnicity. The use of sex- and ethnicity-specific growth charts may prevent the misclassification of newborns as small or large for gestational age.