The Use of Technology for Estimating Body Composition: Strengths and Weaknesses of Common Modalities in a Clinical Setting

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Abstract

Assessment of body composition, both at single time points and longitudinally, is particularly important in clinical nutrition practice. It provides a means for the clinician to characterize nutrition status at a single time point, aiding in the identification and diagnosis of malnutrition, and to monitor changes over time by providing real-time information on the adequacy of nutrition interventions. Objective body composition measurement tools are available clinically but are often underused in nutrition care, particularly in the United States. This is, in part, due to a number of factors concerning their use in a clinical context: cost and accessibility of equipment, as well as interpretability of the results. This article focuses on the factors influencing interpretation of results in a clinical setting. Body composition assessment, regardless of the method, is inherently limited by its indirect nature. Therefore, an understanding of the strengths and limitations of any method is essential for meaningful interpretation of its results. This review provides an overview of body composition technologies available clinically (computed tomography, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, bioimpedance, ultrasound) and discusses the strengths and limitations of each device.

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