Child growth standards

Anthropometric reference data for international use

Recommendations from a World Health Organization Expert Committee

de Onis M and Habicht JP

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1996;64:650-8.

The World Health Organization (WHO) convened an Expert Committee to reevaluate the use of anthropometry at different ages for assessing health, nutrition, and social wellbeing. The Committee's task included identifying reference data for anthropometric indexes when appropriate, and providing guidelines on how the data should be used.

For fetal growth, the Committee recommended an existing sex-specific multiracial reference. In view of the significant technical drawbacks of the current National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS)/WHO reference and its inadequacy for assessing the growth of breast-fed infants, the Committee recommended the development of a new reference concerning weight and length/height for infants and children, which will be a complex and costly undertaking. Proper interpretation of mid-upper arm circumference for preschoolers requires age-specific reference data.

To evaluate adolescent height-for-age, the Committee recommended the current NCHS/WHO reference. Use of the NCHS body mass index (BMI) data, with their upper percentile elevations and skewness, is undesirable for setting health goals; however, these data were provisionally recommended for defining obesity based on a combination of elevated BMI and high subcutaneous fat. The NCHS values were provisionally recommended as reference data for subscapular and triceps skinfold thicknesses. Guidelines were also provided for adjusting adolescent anthropometric comparisons for maturational status.

Currently, there is no need for adult reference data for BMI; interpretation should be based on pragmatic BMI cutoffs. Finally, the Committee noted that few normative anthropometric data exist for the elderly, especially for those > 80 y of age. Proper definitions of health status, function, and biologic age remain to be developed for this group.