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Growth of Belgian and Norwegian children compared to the WHO growth standards: prevalence below −2 and above +2 SD and the effect of breastfeeding
  1. P B Júlíusson1,
  2. M Roelants2,3,
  3. K Hoppenbrouwers3,
  4. R Hauspie2,
  5. R Bjerknes1,4
  1. 1Section for Pediatrics, Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
  2. 2Laboratory for Anthropogenetics, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium
  3. 3Department of Youth Health Care, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  4. 4Department of Paediatrics, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Pétur B Júlíusson, Section for Pediatrics, Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Bergen, 5021 Bergen, Norway; petur.juliusson{at}


Background New national growth references have been published in Belgium and Norway. The WHO recommends universal use of their 2006 Child Growth Standards based on data from breastfed children.

Objective To compare the growth of Belgian and Norwegian children with the WHO standards.

Participants 6985 children 0–5 years of age from Belgium and Norway.

Design Proportion of children below −2 SD and above +2 SD of the WHO standards was calculated for length/height, weight, body mass index and head circumference. Average SD scores of exclusively breastfed children of non-smoking mothers were compared with national reference data and with the WHO standards.

Results Generally, the number of Belgian and Norwegian children below −2 SD lines of the WHO standards was lower and above +2 SD higher than expected. The largest differences were for head circumference (0.97% Belgian and 0.18% Norwegian children below −2 SD, 6.55% Belgian and 6.40% Norwegian children above +2 SD) and the smallest for length/height (1.25% Belgian and 1.43% Norwegian children below −2 SD, 3.47% Belgian and 2.81% Norwegian children above +2 SD). The growth pattern of breastfed children of non-smoking mothers was in both countries more alike the local national growth references than the WHO standards.

Conclusions There are significant deviations in the proportion of children outside normal limits (±2 SD) of the WHO standards. This was true for all children, including those who were exclusively breastfed. Hence, adoption of the WHO growth charts could have consequences for clinical decision-making. These findings advocate the use of national references in Belgium and Norway, also for breastfed children.

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  • PBJ AND MR contributed equally to this work.

  • Funding The Flanders growth study was supported by a grant from the Minister of Public Health of the Flemish Government. The Bergen Growth Study was supported by The Western Norway Regional Health Authority, University of Bergen, Novo Nordisk AS and Merck Serono SA.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval The Flanders Growth Study was approved by the ethics committee of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and the Bergen Growth Study by the Regional Committee for Medical Research Ethics and the Norwegian Data Inspectorate.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.