Artificial intelligence for the practical assessment of nutritional status in emergencies

Watkins, Ben; Odallo, Lameck and Yu, Jenny (2024). Artificial intelligence for the practical assessment of nutritional status in emergencies. Expert Systems (Early access).



This paper describes a novel method for detecting child malnutrition based on artificial intelligence and facial photography. Estimates of severe and moderate acute malnutrition in children are critical for rapid emergency responses. However, the two traditional measurement methods, mid‐upper arm circumference (MUAC) and weight‐for‐height (WFH), are impractical in conflict and catastrophic disaster situations. They require well‐trained enumerators, cumbersome equipment, and close supervision. The Method for Extremely Rapid Observation of Nutritional Status (MERON) addresses the problem, using simple facial photographs. Facial features are extracted to predict Body Mass Index (BMI) in adults and Weight for Height Z Score (WFHZ) in children under five. MERON correctly predicts adult BMI classification with 78% accuracy. A variant of the model, trained on a sample of 3167 children in Kenya, successfully classified 60% of cases. On most measures, MERON was easier and more culturally acceptable to use than the traditional measurement methods. If MERON were to be trained and validated on a larger sample, with more extreme cases, it would provide a practical solution to a recurrent humanitarian problem.

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