Nutritional assessment in preterm infants: A Practical Approach in the NICU

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A practical approach for nutritional assessment in preterm infants under intensive care, based on anthropometric measurements and commonly used biochemical markers, is suggested. The choice of anthropometric charts depends on the purpose: Fenton 2013 charts to assess intrauterine growth, an online growth calculator to monitor intra-hospital weight gain, and Intergrowth-21st standards to monitor growth after discharge. Body weight, though largely used, does not inform on body compartment sizes. Mid-upper arm circumference estimates body adiposity and is easy to measure. Body length reflects skeletal growth and fat-free mass, provided it is accurately measured. Head circumference indicates brain growth. Skinfolds estimate reasonably body fat. Weight-to-length ratio, body mass index, and ponderal index can assess body proportionality at birth. These and other derived indices, such as the mid-upper arm circumference to head circumference ratio, could be proxies of body composition but need validation. Low blood urea nitrogen may indicate insufficient protein intake. Prealbumin and retinol binding protein are good markers of current protein status, but they may be affected by non-nutritional factors. The combination of a high serum alkaline phosphatase level and a low serum phosphate level is the best biochemical marker for the early detection of metabolic bone disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1999
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Anthropometry
  • Biochemical markers
  • Body composition
  • Growth charts
  • Nutritional assessment
  • Preterm infant


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