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Growth of Belgian and Norwegian children compared to the WHO growth standards: Prevalence below –2 and above +2 standard deviations and the effect of breastfeeding
  1. Pétur B. Júlíusson1,*,
  2. Mathieu Roelants2,
  3. Karel Hoppenbrouwers3,
  4. Roland Hauspie2,
  5. Robert Bjerknes1
  1. 1 University of Bergen, Department of Clinical Medicine, Section for Pediatrics, Bergen, Norway;
  2. 2 Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Laboratory for Anthropogenetics, Brussels, Belgium;
  3. 3 Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Department of Youth Health Care, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to: , ; 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 (± 2SD) 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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