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Baby Bottoms & Diaper Data

Jul 15th, 2018

Since the 1940s, when Saks Fifth Avenue debuted Marion O’Brien Donovan’s rubber baby bottom covers (say that ten times fast), research scientists and engineers have been continuously improving the diaper. Just as important as absorptive capacity and comfort is a secure, leakproof yet flexible fit. Unlike in Elmo’s World, one cannot simply “Ask a Baby”. That’s where Anthrotech comes in.

We were asked to assist Kimberly-Clark in capturing baby and toddler dimensions, for use in improving both disposable diaper fit and sizing. We traveled to their diaper research & development center to train nurses in the proper measurement of babies and toddlers who, unsurprisingly, don’t always sit or lie perfectly still.  This state of the art consumer research facility is set up to entertain and comfort babies and parents with the best toys, soft lighting, and even softer carpet. Behind this super high-end daycare environment is a serious business – US parents are expected to spend a whopping $6.22B on diapers in 2018. Our task was to instruct the nurses in about a dozen anatomical landmarks and measurements, and how to capture the data specifically for this special population.


So what types of dimensional measurement does one capture to assist diaper R&D?

The most obvious figure is what we anthropometrists call waist circumference (omphalion), or the horizontal distance around the midsection passing through the center of the navel or belly button (the omphalion). 

This measurement was taken in both sitting and recumbent (lying down, face up) positions since babies wear diapers in all kinds of positions. Another useful measure of waist circumference is performed at the iliac crest landmark, which is the fold of skin atop the hip bone and is commonly used in body fat assessments. Additional dimensions useful for diaper fit include thigh circumference (at its widest part and at the panty line), rise (in this case, the distance through the crotch), and overall height.

Anthrotech developed a detailed training protocol and instructional materials to help the nurses identify anatomical landmarks and to properly use anthropometric measurement tools to capture the data. One such tool, which we used in a recumbent position to measure the height of babies, is the anthropometer (you may have encountered a standing version integrated into a clinical weight scale). 

In keeping with the fun and friendly atmosphere of the research center, we wrapped a big, fuzzy flower around the anthropometer, giving the child something to look at and reducing potential intimidation or distraction by the tool itself.

Techniques were incorporated to increase the consistency, or what we science geeks call inter-rater reliability, of measurement methods and the resulting data. For example, we focused on where to place the feet, how the head should be positioned, and where to watch out for tensed muscles, all in an effort to control the conditions of taking measurements. Once the first group of nurses was trained, they were then able to train others and obtain the measurements needed to compile a robust and useful data set, to aid in designing diapers that move well and fit comfortably for children of all shapes and sizes. I think we can all agree that disposable diapers keep improving, and Anthrotech is proud to have contributed to the anthropometry needed to make it happen.


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