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Preferable Method for Monitoring Weight in Adolescents with Eating Disorders

Tim Boyer's picture
Measuring a child's weight alternative

Do you have a child with an eating disorder? Getting him or her on a scale can be challenging and escalate conflict in the home. A new study reveals a preferable method―for both parents and their children―for monitoring weight changes in adolescents with eating disorders.


A new study published in the journal Eating Behaviors reveals that there are less invasive ways of monitoring your child’s weight than resorting to scrutiny by scale or pinching folds of skin. The method they found more preferable is called “Mid-upper Arm Circumference” (MUAC) that they report tracks changes in mid-upper arm measurement patterns that are in agreement with weight changes when weight is lost or gained.

Treating adolescent patients with eating disorders can be difficult for physicians, the parents and the child under treatment due to that progress (or lack of) has to be monitored to determine when children are eating too much or too little, dependent upon their type of eating disorder.

One of the difficulties is getting accurate data when the adolescent may feel resentment of the method(s) used to frequently monitor their weight. To find a solution to this problem researchers have turned to the possibility of using Mid-upper Arm Circumference measurement where a measuring tape is simply applied to the mid-upper arm occasionally to track progressions of patterns of either weight loss or weight gain. MUAC is often used by Community Health Workers to conduct anthropometric measurements of children being screened and treated for malnutrition in impoverished countries.

To test the potential solution, researches designed an experiment with two goals. The first was to determine whether assessments of MUAC can track weight restoration in a similar pattern to direct measures of weight. The second goal was to examine adolescents' self-reported feelings in response to assessments of MUAC, scale weighing, and using skinfold testing.

The first phase of the study involved 40 adolescent females diagnosed with an eating disorder in which their weight was assessed weekly using MUAC measurements along with scales and skinfold test weight assessments during 8 weeks of eating disorder treatment.

The second phase of the experiment gathered data from 30 of the participants on their personal feelings towards the three different anthropometric measures used.

What the data revealed was that:

• Mid-upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tracks change in a similar pattern as weight in female adolescents treated for eating disorders.

• Discrepancies between changes in weight and MUAC can highlight possible weight falsification.

• MUAC measurements were better tolerated emotionally than weight and skinfold measurements.

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The researchers concluded that MUAC measurements are a useful adjunct to measurements of weight, and are perceived to be less distressing than routinely used measurement techniques of weight such as stepping on a scale or using skin fold tests.

How to Perform MUAC on Your Child

Basically a MUAC is performed using the following steps:

1. The subject’s left arm should be bent at the elbow at a 90 degree angle, with the upper arm held parallel to the side of the body.

2. Measure the distance between the bony protrusion on the shoulder (acromion) and the point of the elbow (olecranon process). Mark the mid-point.

3. Ask the subject to let arm hang loose and measure around the upper arm at the mid-point, making sure that the tape measure is snug but not tight.

However, depending on the child’s age and other factors, a clinician should be consulted for obtaining the correct type of tape measure to use and a chart that is designed for accurate assessment based on the tape measure readings.

For more about weight and eating disorders, here is an informative article about the better breakfast choice for fighting childhood obesity.


Pinch, cinch or step: Evaluating the effectiveness and acceptability of mid upper arm circumference measurements in adolescents with eating disordersEating Behaviors Vol. 22, August 2016, Pages 72–75; Pei Yoong Larn et al.

BC Mental Health & Addiction Services: “Using Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) for monitoring nutritional recovery in adolescents with eating disorders

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