In DepthGlobal Health

Big studies clash over fetal growth rates

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Science  27 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6323, pp. 336
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6323.336

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A paper published this week is set to ignite a major scientific fight over what could seem like a minor issue: Given optimal circumstances, do unborn babies around the world grow at the same rate, or do they follow different growth trajectories in different countries? Three years ago, a large project called INTERGROWTH-21st claimed that the differences between countries are negligible. But the new study, published in PLOS Medicine, found marked differences in growth rates, even if the babies' mothers live in the best of circumstances. The stakes are high: Because the studies were set up to guide antenatal care, they could affect the health of millions of babies, especially in developing countries.

  • * Jop de Vrieze is a science journalist in Amsterdam.