What you need to know about underweight

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  • What you need to know about underweight
  • Underweight - risk and therapy

Underweight people are often called "beanstalk", "ironing board" or "asparagus resin": those who are extremely thin do not always have it easy. From a medical point of view, "being thin" does not automatically mean "being healthy". According to the classification of the World Health Organization WHO is underweight who has a body mass index (BMI = body weight in kilograms divided by height squared in meters) of less than 18.5.

Spread of underweight

Almost 2 million people in Germany are underweight, as shown by the information provided by the Federal Statistical Office. Significantly more women than men are affected, especially in the age group between 14 and 29 years.

Similar values ​​apply to the other western industrialized countries: in the US, around 3.5% of the population weigh too little, in France almost 5%. By contrast, almost 50% of adults in developing countries are too light.

Causes: Genetic predisposition and chronic diseases

The discussion about anorexic models has brought the pathological BMI below 17 in the foreground. However, this not only affects people with proven eating disorders, but especially those who simply do not gain weight, for example due to genetic predispositions, or suffer from chronic diseases. Reasons for accidental weight loss are often inflammatory bowel disease.

As another Causes of underweight can be considered for example:

  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn's disease
  • tuberculosis
  • cancers

In AIDS patients, sudden, unexplained weight loss can often be the first indication of the virus infection.

Underweight and malnutrition

Those who are underweight are not automatically malnourished. There are people who, because of their individual metabolism, do not increase and stay thin throughout their lives. Especially in the western industrialized nations such genetic factors or metabolic disorders are more often the reason for underweight than for example malnutrition as in developing countries.

When differentiating between underweight and malnutrition, one must continue to distinguish between inadequate nutrition on the one hand and nutrient losses due to lack of or poor recovery on the other hand. For example, patients with chronic mouth and throat infections can only absorb food to a limited extent, while lactose intolerant patients can poorly consume the ingested food.

Underweight in the elderly

That eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia can lead to malnutrition and underweight to death is well known. Much less well-known, however, is the fact that older people are increasingly malnourished and thus underweighted. Loss of appetite, physical and mental limitations are often a reason for the so-called "pudding seniors" in addition to financial problems and acute illnesses.

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