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:

  • The existing weight requirements for two and three-year-olds were 15 to 20 per cent too high.

  • The formula-fed standard put a healthy one year old between 22.5 lbs and 28.5 lbs, where as the healthy breastfed infant weighs in at between 21 to 26 lbs.

  •    The differences in growth rates and patterns between exclusively breastfed and formula-fed infants become evident at the early age of two to three months.

  •  The survey’s highly compelling results show that it is not the breastfed infant who is not growing well, but the formula fed infant who is fed too much and consequently grows too quickly.

  • The daily energy intake for babies should be about seven per cent less than current levels.


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

Rockport, ON

K0E 1V0




Notes for the Press:


WHO Child Growth Standards





  • The new WHO Child Growth Standards show how every child in the world should grow. These new Standards set the benchmark for growth and development of all children from birth to age 5, replacing old references which only described how a sample of children were growing at that time and place.


  • Every child in every part of the world has the potential to grow and develop as described in these Standards as long as his and her basic needs are met. The Standards show that nutrition, environment and healthcare are stronger factors in determining growth and development than gender or ethic background.


  • For the first time, we now have a technically robust tool to measure, monitor and evaluate the growth of all children worldwide, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status or type of feeding. Under-nutrition, overweight and obesity, and other growth and nutrition-related conditions can be detected and addressed at an early stage in a child’s life. These standards are for all children, not just for use with some groups.


  • The Standards are based on the breastfed infant as the normative growth model. The nutritional, immunological and growth benefits of breastfeeding have been proven, and the breastfed infant is the natural standard for physiological growth. This is in keeping with national and international guidelines that recognize breastfeeding as the best source of nutrition for infants.


  • The Standards will be an effective tool for detecting obesity. They allow for earlier diagnosis of excessive weight gain. In fact, the current obesity epidemic in many countries would have been detectable earlier had this new standard been available 20 years ago.


  • The Standards provide all who aim to improve the health of children with a powerful advocacy tool. With these standards, parents, doctors, advocates and policymakers will know the standards of what constitutes good nutrition, health, and development. The Standards provide strong evidence for the protection, promotion and support of the right of every child to develop to his or her full potential.


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