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New child growth charts will see far fewer classed as underweight

By Lilian Anekwe

New child growth charts adopted by the Department of Health are set to class far fewer children as underweight or as requiring treatment for failure to thrive.

But the World Health Organization charts, which the DH announced last week will now be used across the UK, will roughly double the number of children in the upper weight ranges.

GPs will be expected to stop using the UK90 growth charts with immediate effect and adopt the new ones, for monitoring growth patterns from birth to the age of four years.

The current measures are based predominately on babies fed with formula milk, but the new ones are derived from international growth trends for breast-fed babies.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said the new charts will mean children who were classed as underweight using UK90 charts will now appear to be in the normal growth range.

Professor Charlotte Wright, professor of community child health university of Glasgow and academic lead for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, helped developed the new charts.

She said: ‘We have probably been worrying women unnecessarily about their children's weight.

‘Women with small breast-fed babies may have felt pressure to give their children supplements when there's no need. Also, parents of bottle-fed toddlers may have thought they were overweight when they weren't.'

Dr Morag Martindale, a GP Blairgowrie in Perthshire and an advisor to the National Childbirth Trust, said: ‘There's no doubt some mothers had pressure put on them to overfeed or top-up babies who were under weight.

‘The new charts may make it seem as if there is an increase in the number of overweight babies but it will help breast fed babies at the low end of the chart because they will now appear in the normal range. GPs definitely need them for use in their surgeries.'

The new charts will increase the number of children in the upper weight ranges – from approximately 3% in the 98th centile at one year old to 6%.

Professor Wright said the charts would act as an ‘early warning sign' to help identify children at risk of growing up to overweight or obese, but GPs did not need to refer children they believed were otherwise growing at a normal rate.

BOX: New WHO child growth charts explained

• Previous UK90 charts were based on growth patterns of bottle-fed babies
• New WHO charts are derived from data from 8,500 breast-fed children in six countries which found growth rate was very similar in children in all locations, regardless of ethnicity
• Charts also include specific measures for premature babies, BMI conversion chart and adult height predictor
• RCPCH say there is no need to refer or check growth more frequently then scheduled as long as a child is growing steadily on new charts

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