Signs of Being Underweight

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Are you worried that you might be underweight? While many of the people around you might be concerned about weight that they are gaining, you might be concerned about weight that you are losing. So what are the signs of being underweight? There are several that you should pay attention to if you are very thin or losing weight quickly.

What Is Underweight?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) if your body mass index (BMI) falls below 18.5 then you are in the underweight category.

You can calculate your BMI using a simple formula. You'll need to know your weight in kilograms and your height in meters.  Then insert the numbers into this equation:

BMI = (weight in kilograms) ÷  (height in meters)2

You can also use a BMI calculator. Compare your numbers to standardized body mass index scores. 

  • 18.5 or less: Underweight
  • 18.5 to 24.9: Normal Weight
  • 25.0 to 29.9: Overweight
  • 30.0 or higher: Obese

Keep in mind that body mass index is not a diagnostic measure. If your BMI falls below 18.5, you are not necessarily in harm's way because of your weight. BMI is only a classification system. Your doctor and other health organizations use it as a screening tool to assess your weight and your risk for disease.

You can also use body fat percent measurements to assess your body size. In general women should have a body fat measurement of at least 10-13% for essential body functions. Men should have at least 2 to 5 percent for essential body functions.

Falling below those recommendations may not be healthy for you.

Government studies estimate that only about 1.7 percent of the population is underweight. Roughly 2.6 percent of women are underweight and about 0.7 of men are underweight.

So how do you know for sure if you are underweight? Your health care provider can evaluate your weight and determine if you need to gain weight to improve your health.

Signs of Being Underweight

If you are underweight, you may notice certain signs on your body. But some symptoms commonly associated with thinness may have other causes. For example, do veiny arms mean you're underweight? Some people who are very thin complain about veiny arms. Medical experts say that being too thin can cause dry, thin skin which might make veins look more obvious. But body builders have veiny arms, as well.  So veiny arms, alone, aren't necessarily an indicator that you are too thin.

Other people complain about joints that look too large. If you are underweight and carry very little muscle mass, your bones and your joints may appear more prominent. But again, having large bones or a more noticeable joint, doesn't mean that you are definitely underweight.

Other symptoms of being underweight may include:

  • Fragile bones
  • Irregular menstrual periods or problems getting pregnant
  • Hair loss
  • Weak immune system
  • Dizziness or fatigue from anemia
  • Poor growth and development, especially in children who are underweight

    What Should I Do If I Am Underweight?

    The best source of information if you think you are underweight is your doctor. There are many causes of low body weight and your health care provider can rule out conditions like cancer, thyroid disease, digestive problems or medications. There are also behavioral causes of underweight, such as stress or depression.

    But it is possible that you are underweight because of genetics, because of your activity level, or simply because you don't eat enough.

    How to Gain Weight and Stay Healthy

    If your doctor does find that you are underweight, he or she will probably recommend that you put on weight by eating healthy and nutritious foods. You can increase your calorie intake by focusing on good sources of protein, grains, and healthy fats. A registered dietitian may be able to help you build meals and snacks to help you gain weight to build a strong healthy body.

    Sources:

    American Academy of Family Physicians. Healthy ways to gain weight if you’re Underweight. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/food-nutrition/healthy-food-choices/healthy-ways-to-gain-weight-if-youre-underweight.html.

    CDC. Assessing your weight. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/.

    Cynthia L Ogden, et al. Centers for Disease Control. Prevalence of Underweight among adults aged 20 and over: United States, 1960–1962 through 2011–2012, NHANES Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, (2014). http://198.246.102.49/nchs/data/hestat/underweight_adult_11_12/underweight_adult_11_12.pdf.

    Gidus, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N T. Dangers of Underweight. http://www.healthline.com/health-blogs/diet-diva/dangers-underweight. 

    National Health Services UK (NHS) Choices Underweight adults. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Underweightadults.aspx. Accessed October 31, 2016.

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