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Last Updated: Monday, 24 April 2006, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Baby growth charts to be revised
Baby being breast-fed (BBC)
The new figures are based on breast-fed infants
The World Health Organization is to issue new guidelines on measuring the growth rates of babies.

Current charts are based on calculations using the growth patterns of babies fed largely on formula milk from 20 years ago.

But bottle-fed babies put on weight more quickly than those that are breast-fed, meaning breast-fed children could be shown as underweight.

The new recommended charts are based on data from breast-fed babies.

The composition of breast milk is specifically designed for humans
Dr Toni Steer, MRC

The research involved more than 8,000 children from six different countries, who were raised in environments where breast feeding, good diets, and prevention and control of infection were prevalent.

The data from this research has been used to formulate new charts that indicate how children should grow; allowing health professionals and parents to recognize optimal weight gain in children.

Inaccurate indicator

The study has shown that the current system pitches target weights too high.

Current charts suggest a healthy one-year-old weighs between 22.5lb (10.2kg) and 28.5lb (12.93kg), when in fact the true healthy weight is 21lb (9.53kg) to 26lb (11.79kg).

There has already been pressure to switch to charts based on breast-fed babies.

The WHO already recommends that mothers breast-feed their children, stating that it provides all of the nutrients a child needs.

"The composition of breast milk is specifically designed for humans," said Dr Toni Steer, a nutritionist from the Medical Research Council.

"It also contains a lot of compounds that help to protect against childhood infections."

Studies have also linked breast milk to a lower risk of obesity later in life and lower blood pressure, although research is ongoing.

But babies fed on breast milk put on weight more slowly than formula fed babies.

Professor Alan Lucas, a child nutrition expert at the Institute of Child Health, University College London, said: "The growth of breast fed babies is more ideal than the growth of babies fed on formula - it is better for babies to grow more slowly.

"In the past everybody thought it was best to have big bonny babies, but interestingly, just about ever other animal species shows disadvantages in terms of long-term health if the infants grow too fast."

His research has shown that babies who grow quickly show signs of higher blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and higher cholesterol levels in later life.

He welcomed the new guidelines: "This is very recent information and clearly we need to act upon it in the future."

Rosie Dodds, Policy Research Officer at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), said: "These new growth standards should help ensure more babies benefit from breastmilk for longer and we look forward to their implementation across the UK as soon as possible."

The Department of Health has said it will consider the WHO's new recommendations before deciding if UK charts need to be reviewed.


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