Nutrition-focused physical examination in pediatric patients

Nutr Clin Pract. 2015 Apr;30(2):203-9. doi: 10.1177/0884533615572654. Epub 2015 Mar 4.


A complete nutrition assessment includes several components: medical record review, anthropometric measurements, diet/nutrition intake, interview, and physical examination. The nutrition-focused physical examination (NFPE) can identify or confirm muscle wasting, subcutaneous fat loss, and edema and clarify information gathered during the medical record review. The physical examination component of the nutrition assessment is more critical in pediatric patients because pediatric patients can become malnourished more quickly than adults and because prolonged malnutrition can negatively affect growth and development. In addition, case studies of micronutrient deficiencies, essential fatty acid deficiency, and protein-calorie malnutrition with skin manifestations have been reported in developed countries. The etiologies of the deficiencies are chronic disease, long-term tube feedings, or long-term parenteral nutrition. An NFPE involves an in-depth examination of the patient from head to toe by a trained nutrition professional. Nutrition professionals recognize the importance and value of an NFPE, yet it is seldom completed, particularly in pediatrics, most likely due to lack of training and lack of pediatric-specific information or training opportunities. Although there are similarities between NFPE in pediatric and adult patients such as the techniques used (inspection, palpation, percussion, and auscultation), there are important differences related to growth and development. This review provides an overview of nutrition assessment with focus on the NFPE and aspects unique to the pediatric patient.

Keywords: anthropometry; nutrient deficiencies; nutrition assessment; nutrition-focused physical examination; pediatrics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Dietetics / methods
  • Dietetics / standards
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition / diagnosis*
  • Malnutrition / etiology
  • Micronutrients / deficiency
  • Nutrition Assessment*
  • Nutritional Status / physiology
  • Physical Examination / methods*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*


  • Micronutrients