Am J Perinatol
DOI: 10.1055/s-0043-1774316
Original Article

Defining Body Mass Index Using Weight and Length for Gestational Age in the Growth Assessment of Preterm Infants at Birth

Irene E. Olsen
1   Department of Nutrition Sciences, College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Marion Granger
2   School of Data Science and Analytics, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia
Waleed Masoud
2   School of Data Science and Analytics, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia
Reese H. Clark
3   The Pediatrix Center for Research, Education, Quality, and Safety (CREQS), Pediatrix Medical Group, Inc., Sunrise, Florida
2   School of Data Science and Analytics, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia
› Author Affiliations
Funding This work was partially funded by The Gerber Foundation (grant no.: 7247).


Objective The objectives of this study were to describe (1) body mass indexes (BMIs) using weight and length for gestational age (GA) classifications, and (2) the additional information BMI, as a measure of body proportionality, provides for preterm infant growth assessment and care plans at birth.

Study Design Birth weight, length, and BMI of 188,646 preterm infants (24–36 weeks gestation) admitted to U.S. neonatal intensive care units (Pediatrix Clinical Data Warehouse, 2013–2018) were classified (Olsen curves) as small, appropriate, or large for GA (SGA < 10th, AGA 10–90th, LGA > 90th percentile for GA, respectively). The distribution for the 27 weight–length–BMI combinations was described.

Results At birth, most infants were appropriate for weight (80.0%), length (82.2%), head circumference (82.9%), and BMI (79.9%) for GA. Birth weight for GA identified approximately 20% of infants as SGA or LGA. Infants born SGA (or LGA) for both weight and length (“proportionate” in size) were usually appropriate for BMI (59.0% and 75.6%). BMI distinguished disproportionate weight for length in infants with SGA or LGA weight at birth (58.3%, 49.9%). BMI also identified 11.4% of AGA weight infants as small or large for BMI (“disproportionate” in size) at birth; only using weight for GA missed these underweight/overweight for length infants.

Conclusion The unique, additional information provided by birth BMI further informs individualized preterm infant growth assessment by providing an assessment of an infant's body proportionality (weight relative to its length) in addition to the routine assessment of weight, length, and head circumference for GA and may better inform care plans and impact outcomes.

Key Points

  • Most preterm infants were born AGA for all growth measures.

  • AGA weight infants may be under- or overweight for length.

  • BMI distinguished body disproportionality in SGA/LGA infants.

  • Recommend BMI assessed along with weight, length and head.

  • Further research on BMI in preterm infants is needed.


The Gerber Foundation partially funded the work, but did not have involvement in the study design, data collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, writing of the report, or decision to submit the paper for publication.

Publication History

Received: 17 May 2023

Accepted: 07 August 2023

Article published online:
08 September 2023

© 2023. Thieme. All rights reserved.

Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc.
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