For release April 27, 2006
WHO Child Growth Standards important landmark in improving
infant and young child nutrition
The Infant Feeding Action Coalition (INFACT) Canada is pleased that the long-awaited World Health Organization (WHO) Child Growth Standards have been launched. Today’s release of the new Child Growth Standards is a crucial development in improving infant and young child nutrition globally.
The new WHO Child Growth Standards, which establish the normal physiological growth for all children regardless of ethnic background, are now based on breastfed children. Previous growth standards, which were used to monitor a child’s progress, had higher weights as they were based on mixed fed children (infants both breastfed and formula fed), who statistically are heavier than breastfed children. Since formula-fed children grow faster and their growth patterns differ from those of breastfed children, the use of previous standards had raised concerns about ‘overfeeding’ infants to match the development of unnaturally heavy children.
Notably, the Child Growth Standards bring an essential support instrument to the implementation of optimal infant and young child feeding practices as recommended in the WHO Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, 2002: exclusive breastfeeding for the first six month with the introduction of local and high nutrient complementary foods after six months while continuing breastfeeding to two years and beyond.
Importantly it will reduce the practice of supplementation or “topping up” with formula feedings, based on the frequently held misconception that breastfed babies did not grow fast enough, a misconception re-enforced by inappropriate growth standards. Supplementation or early cessation of breastfeeding has been shown to contribute to overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence; a condition that acts as a trigger to subsequent increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adult life. Thus eliminating the practice of formula supplementation and early weaning onto formula feeding will have the potential to help reduce the current obesity epidemic.
Elisabeth Sterken, nutritionist and Director of INFACT Canada notes, “The new WHO Growth Standards are a critical tool for the re-establishment of breastfeeding as the norm for feeding infants and young children. Early nutrition has a life-long influence on health outcomes. Parents and health practitioners can now feel confident that breastfed infants are growing optimally when they are “less fat” than mixed-fed and formula-fed infants. Using breastfed children as the norm for growth is a critical development in the reduction of the overweight and obesity epidemic facing Canada and a vital step in reducing the consequences associated with overweight and obesity; increased cardiovascular disease; high blood pressure and diabetes. How many parents were needlessly told their infants were not thriving and needed formula supplementation because their babies were measured against growth charts based on predominantly formula-fed infants? How many mothers stopped breastfeeding because they were led to believe their infants were not gaining weight fast enough?”
Some interesting details have emerged from the growth reference study:
For more information contact:
Elisabeth Sterken, MSc, nutritionist
Director INFACT Canada/IBFAN North America
Steering Committee of the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition
63 Burtch's Lane
Notes for the Press:
WHO Child Growth Standards