Study Finds Low and High BMI Can Increase the Risk of Eating Disorders in Children

A new study recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, by researchers from the University of North Carolina and the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), Switzerland, shows that if a child is underweight or not getting enough nutrients, he/she could be at risk of developing an eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa.

People that suffer from anorexia nervosa are obsessive about their weight and consume very little food. According to the study reported by News Medical, toddlers from age two (boys) and four (girls) can be at risk.

The WHO recommends a person’s BMI to be not lower than 18.5 – which means a person is underweight, and not above 25, which is when a person is overweight. BMI means Body Mass Index, and it’s the body mass divided by the square of the body height.

Eating Disorders Caused By Low or High BMI

A persistent high BMI in childhood can increase the risk of developing bulimia nervosa, where a person eats a lot and then feels the need to vomit.

After analyzing about 1,500 individuals, the assistant professor, and researcher of the study – Zeynep Yilmaz, stated that although eating disorders are of psychiatric nature, the metabolic risk factors in childhood should be assessed, along with other factors like environment, society and culture:

The differences in childhood body weight of adolescents who later developed eating disorders started to emerge at a very early age — way too early to be caused by social pressures to be thin or dieting.

The study notes that metabolic factors are linked to genetics, which makes some individuals more predisposed to weight dysregulation. The authors of the study conclude that pediatricians will need an early detection tool for routine checks.

Nadia Micali, the study’s lead researcher and a professor at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and Head of the HUG Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warned that no matter the “origin of these disorders, it is essential to strengthen their prevention and early detection, and therefore to identify risk factors that are visible from an early age.”

This way, if the problem is identified in its early stages, it can be better managed and have the family support the individual at risk, added the researchers.