Health Effects of Being Underweight

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Health Effects of Being Underweight
Maintaining a healthy weight is key to a healthy body. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

While much of the focus of weight-related health problems shines on obesity, being underweight can also bring about serious health complications. Research shows that people who fall between the normal range in the body mass index calculator live longer and in better health. Those who fall into the underweight category are more at risk of diseases such as osteoporosis, respiratory disease, digestive disease, cancer and a weakened immune system.

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Major Health Problems Associated With Being Underweight

A 2008 study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome, by scientists at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, discovered a link between low body mass index (BMI) and osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones resulting in an increased susceptibility to fractures and breaks. While cancer is associated with obesity, a study by the Singapore Chinese Health Study, funded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, found that underweight people are at an increased risk of developing colon cancer, a digestive disease.

A Weakened Immune System

A strong immune system is needed to fight to all types of illness and disease; a weak one means a person is more susceptible to infection, particularly respiratory infections such as pneumonia. This is because a person with a weak immune system is less able to combat germs and therefore is more likely to catch a disease from those germs than a healthy person. A benefit of an increase in body weight is a stronger immune system.

The Causes of Weight Loss

As simple as it sounds, maintaining a healthy weight is all about taking in as many calories as the body needs. Research has shown that thin people don't burn calories into thin air, nor can they eat more food than their body needs and expect to remain slim. Maintaining an average weight is about eating the right foods -- and enough of them -- and taking exercise. It's also important to note that low body weight can be an indicator of an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.

Gaining Weight

To gain weight it is necessary to consume more calories than the body burns. An excess of 500 calories per day roughly corresponds to a weight gain of 0.454kg. per week. Health experts recommend that an underweight person start with small meals, up to six times a day, of foods that are rich in nutrients such as cereals, pasta, bread, milk, cheese and high-calorie nuts and fruits like avocados and almonds. Cut out empty calories by avoiding sugary soda drinks and high-fat junk food.

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