In the past, researchers have suggested that ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are the two factors most largely responsible for the vast differences in the size of babies born in different populations and countries around the world. Now, a new study shows that the health of the mother may play a much more vital role than race and ethnicity. The landmark international study, was led by Oxford University researchers and involved almost 60,000 pregnancies in eight urban areas in Brazil, China, India, Italy, Kenya, Oman, the UK and USA — and amazingly shows that while there are hugely wide disparities in the average size of babies at birth worldwide, it doesn’t have to be this way. Results of the new study found that mothers who are healthy, educated and receive proper nutrition all have babies that are strikingly similar in size at birth, thus revealing how important and vital the prenatal care of mothers should be worldwide.

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Lead author Professor Jose Villar of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Oxford notes, “Currently we are not all equal at birth. But we can be. 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.” The researchers used various identical ultrasound scan methods in all the countries and looked at babies’ bone growth in the womb from early pregnancy to delivery. Length and head circumference of all babies at birth were also measured. In the end, the researchers found that no more than 4% of the total difference in fetal growth and birth size could be attributed to differences between the eight populations in the study- so basically as long as the mothers’ educational, health and nutritional status and care during pregnancy were equally good, their babies had an equally secure chance of being a decent size at birth and having good future health. The researchers state that study “results provide the conceptual frame to create international standards for growth from conception to newborn baby, which will extend the present infant to childhood WHO MGRS standards.”

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+ The likeness of fetal growth and newborn size across non-isolated populations in the INTERGROWTH-21st Project: the Fetal Growth Longitudinal Study and Newborn Cross-Sectional Study

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