IMMPaCt Evaluates Innovations in 3-D Body Measurements

Maria Elena Jefferds and Karim Bougma demonstrated new body measurement technology with a child volunteer.

Maria Elena Jefferds and Karim Bougma demonstrated new body measurement technology with a child volunteer. Photo: Gates Foundation Archive/Michael Hanson

Does it really matter how accurate body measurements are? The resounding answer is yes, said Dr. Maria Elena Jefferds, leader of CDC’s International Micronutrient Malnutrition Prevention and Control (IMMPaCt) program.

Malnutrition limits the healthy growth and development of children. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of nearly half of child deaths, and severe forms of malnutrition are linked to physical and cognitive underdevelopment. This underdevelopment is sometimes reflected in stunting, which occurs when children do not grow as tall as they should. In some low- and middle-income countries, as many as two in five children suffer from stunting.

Consequently, accurate anthropometry assessments —or body measurements—are key to understanding and tackling the global problem of malnutrition. Typically, measuring children in household surveys involves a bulky board called a stadiometer and a measuring tape. This process requires a lot of training and human resources, and it has potential for measurement error.

Jefferds and Dr. Karim Bougma, a CDC Foundation Field Employee, demonstrated an inexpensive, easily portable alternative solution during a 2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers event. Funded by the Gates Foundation, the new technology involves taking a 3-D scan of a child using an iPad or tablet. It is designed to provide accurate measurements of length/height and upper arm and head circumference of young children.

Evaluations in Kenya, Guatemala, and China

CDC provided technical assistance to survey teams in Kenya, Guatemala, and China to test the new technology. Jefferds, Bougma, and CDC epidemiologist Dr. Zuguo Mei helped train teams on the collection of the 3-D data. IMMPaCt then evaluated the imaging technology’s accuracy and acceptability in real-world household survey settings. They considered the cultural acceptance by parents, caregivers, and survey team members.

Potential for the Future

Although the problem of malnutrition is too big to solve with just one technology, innovations like 3-D body imaging have the potential to be powerful data collection tools if evaluations show they are accurate, precise and acceptable. More accurate data can help target interventions that are more suited to the real situation. This will lead to better quality data, programs, interventions, and allocations of human and financial resources.

Improvements in body measurements have the potential to help countries make decisions at a population level. Also, more accurate body measurements will help doctors make sure they are giving children the right treatments and suggesting the right diets. IMMPaCt’s evaluation of this 3-D innovative technology will provide evidence about whether it works as well as traditional body measurements done by experts and whether it’s acceptable, which will inform how this tool is used in the future to reduce malnutrition.