Methods for Extremely Rapid Observation of Nutritional Status (MERON)

Traditional methods for quantifying malnutrition in children involve physical handling of subjects, can be time-consuming, and are susceptible to inaccuracy because they require enumerators to interpret the value. AIR developed an application called Methods for Extremely Rapid Observation of Nutritional Status (MERON) that allows for a non-invasive, time efficient, and tamper-proof approach to assessing the malnutrition status of an individual by using a facial recognition and processing algorithm.

Through a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) innovation grant, AIR achieved proof of concept with MERON for children and a preliminary classification accuracy level of 60 percent, using 3,500 images of children under-five (6-59 months), collected alongside UNICEF's Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART) survey in Kenya.

Next Steps and Potential Benefits

MERON's next step for product development is a significant increase in its accuracy for malnutrition detection in children under-five from 60 percent to over 90 percent, which will be achieved through collecting additional image data. Doing so requires the collection of 5,000-15,000 more usable images in tandem with SMART surveys or other nutritional assessments for calibration.

Once MERON achieves high-quality classification ability, it will offer the following benefits:

  1. An increase in the accuracy of collecting data on malnutrition. 
  2. A cost reduction related to the training of enumerators.
  3. Use of inconspicuous measurement tools.
  4. A less invasive method to measure malnutrition. (In some cultures, parents are sensitive to physical handling of their children.)

These benefits could, in turn, result in several important outcomes for the diagnosis and treatment of malnutrition in children under five. These include:

  1. More appropriate distribution of funding and scarce resources based on accurate measurements.
  2. Savings in resources (resources used for training enumerators to take accurate weight for height measurements; transportation of bulky equipment and opportunity cost for communities participating in surveys).
  3. Easier data collection in hard to access, high risk or conflict areas, and areas where physical handling of children is culturally not acceptable.