Anorexia Nervosa affects about 1 percent of women and 0.3 percent of men over the age of 15. It can cause serious health problems, including digestive system damage, hormonal damage and even heart attacks. If new research is accurate, girls with anorexia may also be at risk of stunted growth.
Thankfully, death rates from Anorexia have been falling since the 1980’s. This is probably due primarily to better detection, intervention and treatment. But the health risks to those who develop Anorexia are still considerable and frightening.
A new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism says that we can add a new risk to the list: stunted growth. The researchers believe that girls with Anorexia may not reach their full height potential.
In case you know nothing about Anorexia, here are the basics. The anorexic becomes obsessed with weight loss, usually losing an unhealthy amount of weight. It’s done through dieting, often along with excessive levels of exercise (but not always) combined with binge eating and possibly purging behaviors.
It’s marked by an intense fear of gaining weight and body dysmorphia, or a disturbed body image. Emaciated anorexics can look in the mirror and see a fat, unhealthy person even when they are virtually starving to death.
“Our findings emphasize the importance of early and intensive intervention aiming at normalization of body weight, which may result in improved growth and allow patients to reach their full height potential,” said the study’s corresponding author, Dalit Modan-Moses, M.D., of The Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, Chaim Sheba Medical Center, in Tel Hashomer, Israel. “We suggest that the height impairment is a marker for other complications of anorexia nervosa affecting the person’s overall health in several aspects: bone health, cognitive function, and problems with pregnancy and childbirth later in life. Early diagnosis and treatment could prevent, or at least reduce, the risk of these complications.”
This study looked at 255 girls, all around the age of 15 years. Each had been hospitalized for Anorexia Nervosa. Each girls height was measured on admission, on discharge and then again when they reached adulthood.
The team noted that the girls heights were lower than what should have been expected. When they compared the girls adult heights to the expected genetic potential, the measures were significantly shorter than they should have been. Genetic potential is estimated by calculating the average of the patient’s mother and father’s heights.
“This study may have implications for the management of malnutrition in adolescents with other chronic diseases in order to achieve optimal adult height and bone health,” Modan-Moses said.
Eating disorders can be devastating to both the sufferer and those around them. If you know someone with an eating disorder, help them get help. You might be saving a life.
As it turns out, you might also be helping them fulfill their potential, at least as far as height goes.
Keep the faith and keep after it!