There is an enormous amount of information and news regarding the risks of being overweight for your health, especially due to recent studies indicating that the prevalence has dramatically increased in the past 30 years.
However, much less information is available regarding being underweight, and the health risks that are associated. Sure, it is possible to find information regarding eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, but there are other factors where individuals may be underweight. Technically, an individual is considered to be underweight when their body mass index (BMI) is below 18.5. Being below your normal body weight can give rise to certain health conditions that, if left untreated, could become very serious and even life threatening. Some of these conditions include anemia, stunted growth (in the case of children), immune deficiencies, brittle skin/hair/teeth, and in the case of women, increased risk of osteoporosis, irregular menstruations and premature births. In fact, several studies have shown that mortality risks are higher in underweight individuals compared to those in their normal weight, or even when compared to obese individuals.
The causes for being underweight are various, from psychological conditions (as previously commented), to a high metabolic rate, chronic illness, frequent physical activity, or as part of our natural aging process. This last part is especially important, since as we age, our senses of smell and taste are affected, which can have a negative effect on our appetite.
In these cases, a weight-gain diet is recommended, but it’s not a matter of eating loads of junk food; quality is important, more so than quantity. Methods to increase caloric intake is by eating more frequently, with smaller meals, increase protein and carbohydrate intake, as well as avoiding high-sugary and high-salty foods. In certain cases, especially in the elderly and children, appetite-inducing supplements and drugs can be used.
In conclusion, being underweight has many health-related hazards just as it occurs with excess weight. Therefore, our goal should be to reach and maintain a normal weight. Adequate nutrition is necessary for our body to work properly, and maintain a healthy, long-lasting life.
Jonathan Jones, PhD
Product Development Manager, Digital Health Scientific Adviser