Paradigm shift: efficient and cost effective real-time nutritional assessment technique
For several decades, nutritional anthropometry has been used in the assessment of nutritional status and growth monitoring for individuals and at population level. Techniques, equipment and standardization procedures endorsed by The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and The World Health Organization (WHO) for measurements of body size are extensively used, have evolved and advanced in precision. However, new challenges are emerging with each new equipment and technique for data collection, including; difficulty in calibrating and durability of equipment, frequent observational errors, delays in generating nutritional data, relatively high cost of data collection in the field, and scarcity of nutritional experts to manage assessments and analyse data. Moreover, some health facilities collect selective nutritional data (weight and age) required for drug prescriptions only and often lack a repository for the raw data, making it difficult to assess nutritional trends for individual patients and compare nutritional status of populations over time. In the last one decade, there has been a shift towards the use of high technology in data collection for social studies, which is faster, more accurate and reliable when compared to conventional methods. Advancement in technology has seen the development of high precision digital clinical scales for measuring weight and height/length for individuals and populations with readily installed software for calculating nutritional indices and interfaces, such as, Bluetooth, USB or Wi-Fi, for transmitting data. In the proposed real-time nutritional assessment system, we combine GPS-Coordinates, anthropometric data from high precision digital clinical scales; fingerprint coded data, with indicators derived from food security, water, sanitation, maternal and child health data in the smartphone platform. Through the cellular network, the combined data is transmitted to a specialised designed web-based visualisation interface where it is analysed and presented on a dashboard in a form of interactive dynamic graphs and charts. After deriving the nutritional indices, the system superimposes colour coded anthropometric results for study subjects to display their immediate nutritional status. Subsequently, these assessment results are simultaneously transmitted through live-web to the desktops of assessment supervisors, programmers, and developing partners who actively interact as results trickle in and can make intervention decisions in real time. This efficient and cost-effective nutrition assessment system is proposed because it generates nutritional data that provides the most current nutritional status of an individual and target population; monitors trends of nutritional status; identifies priority individuals and areas for immediate nutritional interventions; and evaluates the effectiveness of nutrition and health intervention programmes.
Keywords: Nutrition assessments, Anthropometric, Mobile data collection, Real-time, Data Visualization