Malnutrition remains a serious health problem in Cambodia with over 10% of children less than five years of age suffering from acute malnutrition. In addition to the presence of nutritional edema, two indicators are recommended by the World Health Organization for the diagnosis of acute malnutrition: weight-for-height Z-scores (WHZ; with acute malnutrition defined as WHZ < −2 Z-score) and mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC, with acute malnutrition defined as MUAC < 12.5 cm). Earlier, we showed that WHZ and MUAC identified different subgroups of children with acute malnutrition. To explore factors associated with both indicators of acute malnutrition, we analyzed baseline data from a longitudinal study in three provinces in Cambodia: Phnom Penh (capital, urban environment), Kratie (rural province), and Ratanakiri (hilly, rural province). Data was available for 4381 children below 30 months of age. Malnutrition rates were higher in the two rural provinces than in the capital. Although both MUAC and WHZ showed gender bias, with MUAC identifying more girls, and WHZ identifying more boys with acute malnutrition, the gender effect was strongest for MUAC. The gender bias of MUAC diminished with older age, but remained significant up to 30 months of age. Only using both MUAC and WHZ as indicators resulted in gender neutral identification of acute malnutrition. WHZ alone always identified more children with acute malnutrition than MUAC alone. In Phnom Penh, MUAC alone identified only 11% with acute malnutrition in addition to WHZ. To conclude, both MUAC and WHZ showed gender bias in this cohort of Cambodian children. In Cambodia, implementation of a MUAC-only or a WHZ-only program for the identification of acute malnutrition would be unethical as it will lead to many children remaining undiagnosed.
- Mid upper arm circumerference (MUAC)