Grab a copy of any magazine worth that name, and the first image that confronts you is that of a lean lady — young or old — peering at you. The way the images are presented leaves no one in doubt that having a round figure is undesirable as far as modern fashion goes.
Even among men, having the so-called six-pack is the ultimate body image, hence the desperation to build unwieldy muscles. The unwritten rule is that the ideal body image has to do with slim looks. But then, the line between slimness and thinness is getting blurred, such that the issue is now being viewed globally as a health concern.
From the runway to the private homes, physicians are examining the implications of being underweight, which is what thinness foists upon its victims.
The fearful thing about this phenomenon is that young children — especially girls — are imitating the trend, with some even starving themselves in order to maintain the weight of their screen or pop idol!
Yet, experts warn that being too thin has serious health implications for the young and old, male and female.
Diseases associated with being underweight
Experts note that psychiatric disorders, disordered eating behaviours and chronic illnesses such as malignancies, hyperthyroidism, AIDS, renal disease, and inflammatory bowel disease are almost always associated with underweight status.
United Kingdom-based Nigerian scientist, Dr. Ayodele Ogunleye, warns that “the main risk associated with being underweight is an increased change of osteoporosis” — a disease of bones that leads to an increased risk of fractures.
In a study he co-authored with Dr. Gavin Sandercock, he avers that youth with chronic illnesses affecting the absorption, metabolism or loss of nutrients “may lose a significant amount of weight resulting from the breaking down of fat and muscle tissue.”
The duo state that risk of osteoporosis is more predominant in teenagers because they are at a stage when they experience the maximum deposition of calcium in their bones. “Being underweight might disrupt this mechanism, resulting in lower deposits of minerals in their bones, thereby increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis,” they argue.
The researchers warn that underweight people are likely to be less fit and active, which would also increase their risk of heart diseases.
They also say that the immune system, which is basically designed to fight diseases and protect the body, is also much weaker in underweight people, and therefore makes them susceptible to illnesses.
Experts describe puberty as the process of physical changes by which a child’s body matures into an adult body that is capable of sexual reproduction to enable fertilisation. It is the period when the sex organs grow and develop for reproduction. However, this natural process can be disturbed in both underweight male and female adolescents, as the onset of puberty may be delayed.
Infertility and worse
According to reproductive specialists, underweight women run the risk of being infertile; while underweight teenage girls may have health problems when they reach adulthood because they have put their health on the line at a critical stage of their development.
Underweight teenagers are likely to have abnormal menstruation and, subsequently, reduced fertility.
“The abnormal menstruation may be in form of amenorrhea, that is absence of a menstrual period even though the teenager is of reproductive age. The condition may also occur as a result of low leptin levels and decreased body fat,” family physician, Dr. Kate Agbesanwa, says.
More hospital visits, untimely death
Though research reveals that someone who is 40 per cent overweight is twice as likely to die prematurely as is a normal-weight person, being underweight has also been associated with higher rates of morbidity and mortality.Copied from www.medicalworldnigeria.com
A researcher, Dr. Aziza Azimi, warns that being underweight increases the death risk of women who already have coronary artery disease by two-fold. He says adults who are underweight are more likely to be hospitalised frequently than adults who have normal body weight.
Again, Azimi says, underweight teenagers are more susceptible to asthma, scoliosis, intestinal problems and emotional disorders.
Risk during pregnancy
Again, gynaecologists warn that underweight adolescents who become pregnant may develop pregnancy complications, attended by possible premature delivery and low birth weight.
Obstetrician/gynaecologist, Dr. Kayode Adebayo, once warned that women who have a low body mass index before they become pregnant are 72 per cent more likely to suffer a miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy.
Colon cancer risk
And as fearful as this condition is, a new study funded by the United States National Cancer Institute has found that underweight people are at about an equal risk for colon cancer as those who are overweight.
Before now, the popular thinking is that obese people were susceptible to all kinds of diseases; but researchers are saying that colon cancer risk among the underweight could be due to mild inflammations common in those with low body mass index.
“These inflammations damage the immune system and allow cancer cells to multiply,” the study author says.
The way out
Nutritionists advise that a healthy, balanced diet, including some high-energy foods, can help underweight persons to gain weight safely.
Agbesanwa notes that sometimes, people are underweight mostly because their diet is not providing them with enough calories. “If diet is the cause of your low weight, changing to a healthy, balanced diet can help you achieve a healthy weight,” she counsels.
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