Body mass index (BMI) is helpful in assessing the health of children and adolescents with cancer. However, it does not distinguish muscle from adipose tissue. Now, there may be an alternative to BMI for accessing children and adolescents with cancer. 

Canadian researchers reported in the Journal of Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology (JAYAO) that arm anthropometry is a simple method that can determine if a person is overweight or obese, and unlike BMI, it can distinguish between fat and muscle mass. Researchers write that it may be a valuable method for assessing muscle loss in long-term survivors of childhood cancer.1

Laura Collins and colleagues conducted a study comparing 2 arm anthropometry measures with BMI to determine the nutritional status of leukemia survivors. They found this easy approach to evaluating for obesity and loss of muscle mass in this at-risk population may have some advantages.  The researchers note that anthropometry measures may highly beneficial in lower socioeconomic populations where access to more costly tools for measuring body composition may not be available.

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The team conducted a cross-sectional cohort study in which the nutritional status of 75 long-term survivors of acute lymphoblastic leukemia was assessed with arm anthropometry, in addition to BMI.  The researchers found that overweight/obesity was identified in one-third of participants by a BMI greater than 25 kg/m2 and by triceps skin fold thickness (TSFT).  They concluded that TSFT is a useful measure of overweight/obesity in this population. However, mid-upper arm circumference, which is a surrogate for lean body mass, was not able to detect sarcopenia.


1. Collins L, Beaumont L, Cranston A, Savoie S, Nayiager T, Barr R. Anthropometry in long-term survivors of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in childhood and adolescence. J Adolesc Young Adult Oncol. 2017  Jan24. doi: 10.1089/jayao.2016.0091 [Epub ahead of print]