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Anorexia could stunt young women's height, study finds

Researchers say the condition could have several effects that many people don’t realize

Photo (c) vadimguzhva - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from The Endocrine Society explored the effect that anorexia nervosa can have on young women’s height. 

Though the condition is primarily associated with eating habits and maintaining a specific weight, the team’s research shows that it can also have other developmental effects. In some cases, the researchers say the condition could ultimately stunt a young person’s growth. 

“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 researcher Dr. Dalit Modan-Moses.  

How is height affected?

To better understand how anorexia can affect consumers’ height, the researchers analyzed over 250 young women who had been admitted into the hospital for anorexia-related treatments. All of the participants were in their mid-teens at the time of the study. 

The researchers assessed their vitals at three junctures -- at the time they were admitted to the hospital, again when they left the hospital, and a final time in adulthood -- and paid particular attention to their height at each of the three readings. They also evaluated the participants’ parents’ height to get a sense of where their projected height should be in adulthood. 

Ultimately, the researchers were surprised to learn that the participants’ final height measured much smaller than they had anticipated. Prior to the final check-in, the participants’ heights were considered to be in a normal, healthy range. However, their growth had tapered off significantly by the time they reached adulthood. 

The researchers believe that anorexia can have serious effects on the body in more ways than many people may realize. They hope that these findings emphasize the importance of getting treatment as early as possible. 

“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,” said Dr. Modan-Moses. “Early diagnosis and treatment could prevent, or at least reduce, the risk of these complications.” 

Seeking support

For those struggling with anorexia, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) offers a wide range of support services, including treatment resources, support groups, and national call help lines, among several others. 

To learn more or to take advantage of these services, visit the group’s site here.

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