IMMPaCt in Action: Tackling Malnutrition Through Innovative Technologies

CDC’s Maria Jefferds and CDC Foundation Fellow Karim Bougma pictured with Bill Gates and other presenters at the 2018 Gates Foundation Goalkeepers meeting. Photo: Gates Foundation Archive/Michael Hanson

CDC’s Maria Jefferds and CDC Foundation Fellow Karim Bougma pictured with Bill Gates and other presenters at the 2018 Gates Foundation Goalkeepers meeting. Photo: Gates Foundation Archive/Michael Hanson

Does it really matter how accurate body measurements are? The resounding answer is yes, according to Maria Jefferds, team lead for the International Micronutrient Malnutrition Prevention and Control (IMMPaCt) team in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers eventexternal icon, Jefferds described how important accurate anthropometry—or body measurement—assessments are to understanding and tackling the global problem of malnutrition.

Jefferds and Karim Bougma, a CDC Foundation fellow, presented at the Goalkeepers meeting about a project funded by the Gates Foundation where they provide technical assistance in evaluating an inexpensive, easily portable technology to calculate body measurements of children. The 2018 Goalkeepers event focused on the growth of children that will affect future world progress and included speakers from around the world. Jefferds and Bougma shared the stage with global leaders including Bill Gates, President Emmanuel Macron of France, and President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone, among others.

In her presentation, Jefferds gave an overview of malnutrition in populations, which 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 2 out of 5 children suffer from stunting.

Maria Jefferds and Karim Bougma demonstrated how the technology works with a child volunteer. Photo: Gates Foundation Archive/Michael Hanson

Maria Jefferds and Karim Bougma demonstrated how the technology works with a child volunteer. Photo: Gates Foundation Archive/Michael Hanson

Jefferds and Bougma demonstrated the technology they are testing which takes a 3-D scan of a child using an iPad or tablet that may provide accurate measurements of length/height and upper arm and head circumference of young children. This technology is being compared with current household surveys that use a bulky board called a stadiometer and a measuring tape to measure children. This process requires a lot of training and resources, and has potential for measurement error.

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 tools that could help a lot of children be healthier sooner.

Evaluating in Kenya and Guatemala

Currently CDC is providing technical assistance to survey teams in Kenya and Guatemala. Jefferds, Bougma, and CDC epidemiologist Zuguo Mei are helping the teams evaluate the 3-D imaging technology’s accuracy and acceptability in real-world household survey settings.

The IMMPaCt team anticipates that this technology will potentially lead to more accurate data. This can help target interventions that are more suited to the real situation, and lead to better quality data, programs, interventions, and allocations of human and financial resources.

The IMMPaCt team is also evaluating the cultural acceptance of this new technology and its acceptance by the parents, caregivers, and survey team members.

Potential for the Future

As the IMMPaCt team determines the results of this evaluation, they are hopeful that with continued innovations, there could soon be more tools capable of giving practitioners and policymakers more accurate data in the fight against malnutrition.

The improvements in body measurements have the potential to both help countries make decisions at a population level and help doctors make sure they are giving children the right treatments and suggesting the right diets. For adults, these technological innovations can be tools against obesity in low- and middle-income countries.