The purpose of the INTERGROWTH-21st project was to develop international, prescriptive standards for fetal growth assessed by ultrasound and fundal height, preterm postnatal growth, newborn size and body composition, maternal weight gain, and infant development at the age of 2 years. Hence, we have produced, based on World Health Organization recommendations, the first comprehensive set of international standards of optimal fetal and newborn growth that perfectly match the existing World Health Organization child growth standards. Uniquely, the same population was followed up longitudinally from 9 weeks of fetal life to 2 years of age, with growth, health, and nutritional status assessment at 2 years supporting the appropriateness of the population for construction of growth standards. The resulting package of clinical tools allows, for the first time, growth and development to be monitored from early pregnancy to infancy. The INTERGROWTH-21st fetal growth standards, which are based on observing >4500 healthy pregnancies, nested in a study of >59,000 pregnancies from populations with low rates of adverse perinatal outcomes, show how fetuses should grow-rather than the more limited objective of past references, which describe how they have grown at specific times and locations. Our work has confirmed the fundamental biological principle that variation in human growth across different populations is mostly dependent on environmental, nutritional, and socioeconomic factors. We found that when mothers' nutritional and health needs are met and there are few environmental constraints on growth, <3.5% of the total variability of skeletal growth was due to differences between populations. We propose that not recognizing the concept of optimal growth could deprive the most vulnerable mothers and their babies of optimal care, because local growth charts normalize those at highest risk for growth restriction and overweight, and can be valuable for policymakers to ensure rigorous evaluation and effective resource allocation. We strongly encourage colleagues to join efforts to provide integrated, evidence-based growth monitoring to pregnant women and their infants worldwide. Presently, there are 23.3 million infants born small for gestational age in low- to middle-income countries according to the INTERGROWTH-21st newborn size standards. We suggest that misclassification of these infants by using local charts could affect the delivery of optimal health care.
Keywords: abdominal circumference; biparietal diameter; estimated fetal weight; femur length; fetal size; macrosomia; optimal growth; reference chart; skeletal growth; small for gestational age; socioeconomic status; standard; stunting.
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