Problems Associated with Very Low Levels of Body Fat

Problems Associated with Very Low Levels of Body Fat

Though not as prevalent a problem as overweight or obesity, having too little body fat is also dangerous. Essential fat is necessary for the functioning of the body, and health experts generally view too little body fat less than 8-12% for women and 3-5% for men as a threat to health. Extreme leanness is linked with reproductive, respiratory, circulatory, and immune system disorders and with premature death. Extremely lean people may experience muscle wasting and fatigue. They are also more likely to have eating disorders (described in more detail in Chapter 9). For women, an extremely low percentage of body fat is associated with loss of bone mass and amenorrhea absent or infrequent menstruation (see the box “The Female Athlete Triad”).

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Metabolic syndrome A cluster of symptoms present in many overweight and obese people that greatly increases their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses; symptoms include insulin resistance, abnormal blood fats, abdominal fat deposition, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation A response of blood vessels to harmful substances, such as germs, damaged cells, or irritants; can lead to heart disease, cancer, allergies, and muscle degeneration.

Amenorrhea Absent or infrequent menstruation, sometimes related to unhealthily low levels of body fat and excessive quantity or intensity of exercise.

Emotional Wellness and Self-Image Obesity

Can affect psychological as well as physical wellness. Being perceived as fat can be a source of judgment, ostracism, and sometimes discrimination by others; it can contribute to psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

The popular image of the “ideal” body has changed greatly in the past 50 years, evolving from slightly plump to unhealthily thin. The ideal body as presented by the media is an unrealistic goal for most Americans. This is because one’s ability to change body composition depends on heredity as well as diet and exercise. Body image, problems with body image, and unhealthy ways of dealing with a negative body image are all discussed in Chapter 9.

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