Height Concerns in Anorexia Nervosa

Tween struggling with eating disorder treatment

A recent study conducted on more than 250 adolescent females reveals stunted growth may be one of the long-term side effects of anorexia nervosa (AN) [1]. Published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the study also sheds light on how height concerns may point to more severe health complications for individuals with anorexia nervosa.

Stunted Growth in Anorexia Nervosa Patients

Led by a team from Tel Aviv University in Israel and Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, the study analyzed over 250 adolescent girls (average age of 15 years old) were hospitalized for anorexia nervosa between January 1, 2000, and May 31, 2015. The researchers measured the girls’ height at hospital admission, when they were discharged, and later at adult height and discovered that adult height among the girls was lower than anticipated.

In fact, by comparing the girls’ genetic potential based on their mother and father’s average heights, the researchers found that adult height among the girls was “significantly shorter” than expected [2]. These findings suggest girls with anorexia may not only experience short-term stunted growth (as previous studies indicate) but may never reach their full height potential.

Possible reasons for stunted growth among AN patients include [3]:

  • Malnutrition
  • High cortisol levels
  • Low levels of thyroxine and triiodothyronine
  • Low levels of certain sex hormones
  • Reduced leptin levels

Height Concerns

Young girl wanting to beat her anorexiaWhile stunted growth may not seem like the most alarming anorexia nervosa side effect on which to focus, it may indicate more serious complications going on in the body. “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,” states Dalit Modan-Moses, M.D., the study’s corresponding author [4]. The author goes on to say, “Early diagnosis and treatment could prevent, or at least reduce, the risk of these complications.”

Another study on height concerns in anorexia nervosa published in Eating Disorders Review also suggests that stunted growth among AN patients is indicative of more serious health problems going on, stating that stunted growth should be seen as a “measurable marker of hidden tissue injury” [5]. This study also stresses the importance of early detection and treatment, especially among adolescents with AN. “Prolonged malnutrition arising at, but not diagnosed during, early adolescence that continues around the critical time of peak height growth velocity, may interfere with growth and result in irreversible growth stunting” [6].

In other words, since the adolescent years are full of developmental and growth milestones, it is doubly important to detect and treat anorexia nervosa early on when dealing with adolescents. If a diagnosis and treatment are delayed, the young person may not only experience permanently stunted growth but may also suffer from more serious health complications like impaired cognitive function, bone health problems, and reproductive issues [7].

The good news is, early intervention can help prevent these problems. “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,” concludes Dalit Modan-Moses, M.D. [8].


References:

[1] ScienceDaily. (2020, August 20). Anorexia may stunt young women’s growth. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200820102450.htm.
[2] ibid.
[3] Eating Disorders Review. (2017, February 13). The Effects of Anorexia Nervosa on Final Height. Eating Disorders Review. https://eatingdisordersreview.com/the-effects-of-anorexia-nervosa-on-final-height/.
[4] ScienceDaily. (2020, August 20). Anorexia may stunt young women’s growth. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200820102450.htm.
[5] Eating Disorders Review. (2017, February 13). The Effects of Anorexia Nervosa on Final Height. Eating Disorders Review. https://eatingdisordersreview.com/the-effects-of-anorexia-nervosa-on-final-height/.
[6] ibid.
[7] ScienceDaily. (2020, August 20). Anorexia may stunt young women’s growth. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200820102450.htm.
[8] ibid.


About the Author:

Sarah Musick PhotoSarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.

Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published November 26, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 26, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.