MONDAY, July 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Well-nourished, healthy and well-educated mothers who receive prenatal care have babies of similar size - regardless of differences in their race, ethnicity or where they live, a new study finds.
Conversely, poor nutrition and health seem to be the main culprits behind large differences in the growth of babies during pregnancy and the average size of newborns around the world, according to new research, the team of scientists report.
"Currently, we are not all equal at birth. But we can be," study author Dr. Jose Villar, of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Oxford, said in a university news release.
"We can create a similar start for all by making sure mothers are well educated and nourished, by treating infection and by providing adequate antenatal care. Don't tell us nothing can be done. Don't say that women in some parts of the world have small children because they are predestined to do so. It's simply not true," said Villar.
The study was published online July 6 in The Lancet, Diabetes & Endocrinology. While the study found an association between factors such as maternal education, health and nutrition and newborn size, it was not designed to prove that these factors caused changes in babies' sizes.
Currently, there are significant differences in the size of babies at birth around the world, the researchers explained. Babies who are small for their gestational age or malnourished at birth are often affected by short- and long-term health consequences.
The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, examined nearly 60,000 pregnancies in eight countries around the world, including Brazil, China, India, Italy, Kenya, Oman, the U.K. and the United States.
The women participating in the study had ultrasounds beginning in early pregnancy until they delivered to measure the growth of their babies. The same equipment and methods were used in all eight countries. Once the babies were born, their length and head circumference were also measured.
Mothers with similar levels of education, health, nutrition and care during pregnancy had babies with very similar bone growth in the womb and similar length and head circumference at birth, the study revealed.
The researchers surmised that improving the education, health and nutrition of women around the world will also improve the health of their babies.
"The fact that when mothers are in good health, babies grow in the womb in very similar ways the world over is a tremendously positive message of hope for all women and their families," said Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, from The Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan and the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada, said in the university news release.
"But, there is a challenge as well. There are implications in terms of the way we think about public health: This is about the health and life chances of future citizens everywhere on the planet," Bhutta said. "All those who are responsible for health care will have to think about providing the best possible maternal and child health."
The U.S. National Library of Medicine provides more information on pregnancy and nutrition.