Background: The evaluation of tools to accurately identify low birth weight (LBW) and/or premature newborns in resource-limited countries is a research priority. We explored the use of foot length, chest circumference, and mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) measured within 24 h as diagnostic tools for identifying newborns who are LBW, premature, or both; and compared measurements taken at birth with those taken at five days of age.
Materials and methods: An observational study was undertaken in Hoa Binh Province General Hospital, Vietnam, in ethnic minority newborns. Birth weight, foot length, chest circumference, and MUAC were measured within 24 h of birth and in a subset of 200, were repeated on day five of life. Gestational age was estimated using the New Ballard Score. Receiver Operating Characteristic curves and optimal cut-points (the point with the highest sensitivity and specificity where the sensitivity was at least 0.8) were calculated, for predicting prematurity, LBW, and both. Measurements within 24 h and at five days of life were compared.
Results: 485 newborns were recruited. Chest circumference and MUAC measured within 24 h of birth were found to be highly predictive of LBW (both yielding area under the curve [AUC] of 0.98, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.96-0.99), and performed marginally better than foot length (AUC 0.94, 95%CI 0.92-0.96). The optimal cut-points for measurements within 24 h of birth were ≤ 7.4 cm for foot length; ≤ 30.4 cm for chest circumference; and ≤ 9.0 cm for MUAC. There was statistical evidence that anthropometric measurements taken within 24 h of birth were higher than measurements on day five (p<0.02 for all anthropometric measurements) but the magnitude of these differences was small (at most 2mm).
Conclusions: All measurements taken within 24 h of birth were good predictors of LBW, prematurity and both. Differences in measurements taken within 24 h and on day five were not clinically relevant. Further research will ensure that the application of these measures is reliable in community settings.