Body composition at birth and its relationship with neonatal anthropometric ratios: the newborn body composition study of the INTERGROWTH-21st project

Document Type



Paediatrics and Child Health (East Africa)


Background: We aimed to describe newborn body composition and identify which anthropometric ratio (weight/length; BMI; or ponderal index, PI) best predicts fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM).

Methods: Air-displacement plethysmography (PEA POD) was used to estimate FM, FFM, and body fat percentage (BF%). Associations between FFM, FM, and BF% and weight/length, BMI, and PI were evaluated in 1,019 newborns using multivariate regression analysis. Charts for FM, FFM, and BF% were generated using a prescriptive subsample (n = 247). Standards for the best-predicting anthropometric ratio were calculated utilizing the same population used for the INTERGROWTH-21st Newborn Size Standards (n = 20,479).

Results: FFM and FM increased consistently during late pregnancy. Differential FM, BF%, and FFM patterns were observed for those born preterm (34+0 − 36+6 weeks’ gestation) and with impaired intrauterine growth. Weight/length by gestational age (GA) was a better predictor of FFM and FM (adjusted R2 = 0.92 and 0.71, respectively) than BMI or PI, independent of sex, GA, and timing of measurement. Results were almost identical when only preterm newborns were studied. We present sex-specific centiles for weight/length ratio for GA.

Conclusions: Weight/length best predicts newborn FFM and FM. There are differential FM, FFM, and BF% patterns by sex, GA, and size at birth


Pediatric Research