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Open Access Research article

Determining an anthropometric surrogate measure for identifying low birth weight babies in Uganda: a hospital-based cross sectional study

Nabiwemba L Elizabeth1*, Orach Garimoi Christopher1 and Kolsteren Patrick2

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health, Makerere University College of Health Sciences, P. O. Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda

2 Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nationalstraat 155, Antwerp, B-2000, Belgium

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BMC Pediatrics 2013, 13:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-13-54

Published: 12 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Achieving Millennium Development Goal 4 is dependent on significantly reducing neonatal mortality. Low birth weight is an underlying factor in most neonatal deaths. In developing countries the missed opportunity for providing life saving care is mainly a result of failure to identify low birth weight newborns. This study aimed at identifying a reliable anthropometric measurement for screening low birth weight and determining an operational cut-off point in the Uganda setting. This simple measurement is required because of lack of weighing scales in the community, and sometimes in the health facilities.

Methods

This was a hospital-based cross-sectional study. Two midwives weighed 706 newborns and measured their foot length, head, chest, thigh and mid-upper arm circumferences within 24 hours after birth.

Data was analysed using STATA version 10.0. Correlation with birth weight using Pearson’s correlation coefficient and Receiver Operating Characteristics curve analysis were done to determine the measure that best predicts birth weight. Sensitivity and specificity were calculated for a range of measures to obtain operational cut-off points; and Likelihood Ratios and Diagnostic Odds Ratio were determined for each cut-off point.

Results

Birth weights ranged from 1370–5350 grams with a mean of 3050 grams (SD 0.53) and 85 (12%) babies weighed less than 2500 grams. All anthropometric measurements had a positive correlation with birth weight, with foot length showing the strongest (r = 0.76) and thigh circumference the weakest (r = 0.62) correlations. Foot length had the highest predictive value for low birth weight (AUC = 0.97) followed by mid-upper arm circumference (AUC = 0.94). Foot length and chest circumference had the highest sensitivity (94%) and specificity (90%) respectively for screening low birth weight babies at the selected cut-off points. Chest circumference had a significantly higher positive likelihood ratio (8.7) than any other measure, and foot length had the lowest negative likelihood ratio. Chest circumference and foot length had diagnostic odds ratios of 97% and 77% respectively. Foot length was easier to measure and it involved minimal exposure of the baby to cold. A cut-off of foot length 7.9 cm had sensitivity of 94% and specificity of 83% for predicting low birth weight.

Conclusions

This study suggests foot length as the most appropriate predictor for low birth weight in comparison to chest, head, mid-upper arm and thigh circumference in the Uganda setting. Use of low cost and easy to use tools to identify low birth weight babies by village health teams could support community efforts to save newborns.

Keywords:
Low birth weight anthropometric measurements predictor