The World Health Organization is releasing new international Child Growth Standards it says confirm that all children have the potential to grow and develop to within the same range of height and weight.
More than eight-thousand children from Brazil, Ghana, India, Norway, Oman and the United States were studied.
The children in the study were chosen because their environment was the best possible for proper growth. They all received good health care, including immunizations against diseases.
They were breast-fed as infants and received proper feeding as they grew up and their mothers did not smoke.
Catherine le Gales-Camus is WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health.
She says the resulting standards show that nutrition, feeding practices, environment, and health care are stronger factors in determining growth and development than gender or ethnicity.
"These standards show how every child in the world should grow. We have the proof with these standards that every child in every part of the world has the potential to grow and develop similarly as long as his or her basic needs are met."
Since the late 1970s, the World Health Organization's growth reference was based on data from a limited sample of children from the United States.
WHO says this reference has a number of technical and biological drawbacks that make it less adequate to monitor the rapid and changing rate of early childhood growth.
WHO began this study in 1997. While there are individual differences among children, the study shows the average growth is remarkably similar in the six ethnically different countries.
For example, it finds children from India, Norway and Brazil show similar growth patterns when provided with healthy conditions in early life.
Director of WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, Denise Costa Coitinho, says the new standards have life-long implications.
"Chronic diseases later in life, like diabetes and chronic cardiovascular diseases can be largely prevented with a good start in life. And, this can be achieved with the early diagnosis and the correction of excessive weight, for example, with breast-feeding, with adequate complementary feeding…The current obesity epidemics in many countries could have been detected earlier and hopefully even avoided if we had had such standards available before."
The World Health Organization says type-two diabetes in obese children is rising in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.
Dr. Coitinho says the new standards can detect both over-nutrition and under-nutrition at an early age.
She says this will allow parents and health professionals to more accurately manage either of these extreme problems in children.