Today’s society is obsessed with weight. Statistics about obesity and related health problems seem to be everywhere, from the Internet to news broadcasts. Health magazines tout diet plans and menus supposedly tailored to help people lose weight. Outrageous claims like “walk off 20 pounds in a week!” scream from supermarket newsstands.
Much of this barrage of weight-related information is geared toward women. From a young age, the media teaches women that being thin is something to aspire to, and being “fat” is bad. However, oftentimes “fat” and “thin” are misrepresented, with fashion magazines and even supposed health publications touting an image of thinness that is far beyond what most women can or should attain.
Body mass index (BMI) is a general calculation of weight in relation to height and can be used as a guide to determine whether a person’s weight is healthy or not. A healthy BMI is considered to be in the range of 18.5 to 24.9. Many supermodels have a BMI of 17 or lower, making them dangerously underweight. This image is projected to women on a regular basis as normal or even desirable.
Losing weight for health reasons is not usually cause for concern, especially when achieved with dietary change and regular exercise. However, when a person loses too much weight, problems can occur. These problems may be more pronounced if the weight loss is the result of under-eating, over-exercise, laxative abuse, diuretic abuse, or other disordered food behaviors.
The biggest concern when a person is underweight is whether or not he or she is getting adequate nutrition. Those who are underweight due to under-eating or binge-purge behaviors are often at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Not eating enough or ridding the body of what has been eaten prevents necessary nutrients from being absorbed properly. This in turn can cause fatigue, anemia, osteoporosis, hair loss, and a weakened immune system, just to name a few.
Women who lose too much weight are at a risk of infertility. When body weight drops too low, menstruation may cease as the body uses the energy for other purposes. Remaining underweight, especially from unnatural or disordered eating, can cause long-term reproductive complications.
Extreme weight loss, especially that associated with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, can cause a fine, downy hair called lanugo to grow on the body. This is an attempt by the body to keep itself warm and is a very serious sign that a person has lost too much weight.
Excessive weight loss may also be an indication of an underlying medical condition or disease. Any sudden, extreme, or inexplicable weight loss should be discussed with a doctor as soon as possible in order to address any problems there might be. Those who suspect they or someone they love may be suffering from an eating disorder should seek help immediately.
Being underweight is not as desirable as society makes it seem. It can be a problem in and of itself, resulting in health risks and dangers to the body. Those who are underweight should assess their condition with the help of a health professional and work toward attaining a healthy weight in order to minimize health problems and achieve personal well being.