Kennesaw State researchers use BMI to help increase the number of healthy premature infants


KENNESAW, Ga.  (Feb. 17, 2015) — Kennesaw State University researchers have developed a…

Georgia (Feb 17, 2015)KENNESAW, Ga.  (Feb. 17, 2015) — Kennesaw State University researchers have developed a new tool that will provide a more complete assessment of preterm infant size, helping individualize nutritional care to optimize growth and other health outcomes in preterm infants.

The study “BMI Curves for Preterm Infants,” published in the March issue of Pediatrics, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (KSU authors Irene E. Olsen, M. Louise Lawson, A. Nicole Ferguson, Rebecca Cantrell and Shannon C. Grabich), shows that when standard growth curves take the infant’s body mass index (BMI) into account, it can result in improved nutrition for the preterm infant. These new measurements provide more information for doctors and clinicians and ultimately help premature infants grow better.

“We developed gender-specific BMI-for-age percentile tables and growth curves that, when used in conjunction with weight-, length-, and head-circumference-for-age growth curves, help reveal disproportionate growth in infants that is not detected by current size-for-age methods,” said Louise Lawson, professor of statistics at Kennesaw State and one of the authors of the study.

Previously, the researchers showed that infants born prematurely may have gained more weight than they should while in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), but clinicians lacked sufficient tools to measure this. Overfeeding may result because preterm infants’ growth rates after delivery can fluctuate disproportionately. For example, their length (or height) has been shown to be slower than their ability to put on weight. Thus a short, overweight infant might be diagnosed as small for gestational age. The disproportionality in growth may cause caregivers to overfeed the infant, even if the infant is growing correctly for its length.

The new research, which utilized a large dataset from more than 300 NICUs in the U.S., indicates that during development in the NICU, after birth, length is where infants do not grow well. Although this may seem trivial, infants given extra nutrition because of being short but appropriate for their length could be at high risk of obesity and other health problems later in life. The new BMI curves will provide clinicians, researchers and parents with a new tool to assess whether the growth of preterm infants is appropriate for their length and specific gestational age.

“While further studies are ongoing at KSU, the new BMI curves may allow for better identification of infants who are at high risk of common problems after birth, such as low blood sugar or difficulty maintaining a normal body temperature,” said Dr. Ravi Patel, an Emory University neonatologist, who reviewed the authors’ research and is working with them on needed further outcome studies.

According to the World Health Organization’s preterm birth fact sheet, “Every year an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks gestation), and this number is rising.” In the United States about 12 percent, or almost half a million U.S. babies are born prematurely.



Kennesaw State University is the third-largest university in Georgia, offering more than 100 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees. A member of the University System of Georgia, Kennesaw State is a comprehensive university with more than 32,000 students from 130 countries. In January 2015, Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic State University consolidated to create one of the 50 largest public universities in the country.

— Robert S. Godlewski, 470-578-3448,


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit