The World Health Organization -- or WHO -- has recently released its first-ever international growth standards for infants and young children.  The United Nations health agency found that all children are similar in how they develop -- if they are adequately nurtured.  The new guidelines were created to help make that happen.

The W.H.O. says it now has scientific evidence that infants and children from all over the world have very similar growth patterns when they are given good care and nutrition. 

Cutberto Garza, Director of the United Nations University Food and Nutrition Programme, says this study provides new reference.

"For the first time, the world has a new reference of a new standard for child growth that is based on a prescriptive approach, unlike past approaches that have attempted to define child growth as representative of a population and therefore describing how children grew at particular time or a particular place.  We are now able to describe how children should grow, regardless of time and place."

The WHO's survey shows that differences in children's growth up to the age of five are more the result of feeding practices, overall nutrition, environment and health care than genetics or ethnicity.

The new standards are intended to provide parents, doctors and policymakers a way to measure whether the nutrition and health care needs of children are being met.  The hope is that any growth-related condition -- whether it is poor nutrition or obesity -- can be detected and addressed at an early stage.