How do World Health Organization growth standards impact programs?

January 2009

A recent article in Pediatrics revealed how program enrollment and infant health outcomes would have changed if the 2006 World Health Organization (WHO) growth standards had been used to identify severely acutely malnourished children in a Médecins Sans Frontières feeding program. Researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of data on moderately and severely acutely malnourished children from 6 to 59 months of age in Niger in 2006. They identified eight times as many severely malnourished children using the 2006 WHO z-score cut-off (<-3 z-scores) compared to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) cut-off (<70% of the median). This difference in prevalence was much greater than the difference identified in other, similar studies. Children identified by the WHO standards who would not have met the NCHS cut-off point were younger, had higher weight-for-age z-scores at admission and discharge, required fewer days of treatment, and had better rates of recovery. According to the authors, the results indicate the need to further investigate how use of the WHO standards will impact the resources required for therapeutic feeding programs. Although standards may increase program enrollment, programs will save resources because of shorter treatment duration and decreased need for inpatient care, and patient outcomes will improve.

Assessing the Impact of the Introduction of the World Health Organization Growth Standards and Weight-for-Height z-Score Criterion on the Response to Treatment of Severe Acute Malnutrition: Secondary Data Analysis