Bioelectrical impedance vector analysis as an indicator of malnutrition in children under five years with and without pneumonia in Mchinji District, Malawi: An exploratory mixed-methods analysis

Bioelectrical impedance vector analysis (BIVA) is a non-invasive assessment of body composition and cellular health, which may improve the assessment of nutritional status in sick children. We explored the reliability, clinical utility, and acceptability of BIVA, as an indicator of nutritional status for children under five years with and without pneumonia, in Malawi. Methods: We conducted a parallel convergent mixed-methods exploratory study in Mchinji District Hospital, Malawi, in 2017. We planned to recruit a convenience sample of children aged 0-59 months with clinical pneumonia, and without an acute illness. Children had duplicate anthropometric and BIVA measurements taken. BIVA measurements of phase angle (PA) were taken of the whole body, and trunk and arm segments. Reliability was assessed by comparing the variability in the two measures, and clinical utility by estimating the association between anthropometry and PA using linear regression.

Focus group discussions with healthcare workers who had not previously used BIVA instrumentation were conducted to explore acceptability. Results : A total of 52 children (24 with pneumonia and 28 healthy) were analysed. The reliability of sequential PA measurements was lower than anthropometric measurements, but trunk and arm segments performed better. The largest associations with PA were a negative relationship with weight-for-age z-score (WAZ) and PA in children with pneumonia in the trunk segment, and a positive association with WAZ in the full body measurement in healthy children. Healthcare workers in focus group discussions expressed trust in BIVA technology and that it would enable more accurate diagnosis of malnutrition; however, they raised concerns about the sustainability and necessary resources to implement BIVA. Conclusions : While healthcare workers were positive towards BIVA as a novel technology, implementation challenges should be expected. The differential direction of association between anthropometry and PA for children with pneumonia warrants further investigation.

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