Our goal was to describe worldwide growth-faltering patterns by using the new World Health Organization (WHO) standards.
We analyzed information available from the WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, comprising data from national anthropometric surveys from 54 countries. Anthropometric data comprise weight-for-age, length/height-for-age, and weight-for-length/height z scores. The WHO regions were used to aggregate countries: Europe and Central Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean; North Africa and Middle East; South Asia; and sub-Saharan Africa.
Sample sizes ranged from 1000 to 47 000 children. Weight for length/height starts slightly above the standard in children aged 1 to 2 months and falters slightly until 9 months of age, picking up after that age and remaining close to the standard thereafter. Weight for age starts close to the standard and falters moderately until reaching approximately −1 z at 24 months and remaining reasonably stable after that. Length/height for age also starts close to the standard and falters dramatically until 24 months, showing noticeable bumps just after 24, 36, and 48 months but otherwise increasing slightly after 24 months.
Comparison of child growth patterns in 54 countries with WHO standards shows that growth faltering in early childhood is even more pronounced than suggested by previous analyses based on the National Center for Health Statistics reference. These findings confirm the need to scale up interventions during the window of opportunity defined by pregnancy and the first 2 years of life, including prevention of low birth weight and appropriate infant feeding practices.