The Obesity Challenge is Very Real, but What About Extreme Low Weight?

A body mass index under 16 in women is associated with anorexia in rich countries, but with malnutrition in low- and middle-income countries. It is associated with reduced life span, but the effects of energy supplementation in people who were seriously malnourished as children are uncertain. A recent cross-sectional study of over 40 countries using Demographic and Health Surveys shows a pooled incidence of extreme underweight of 1.8% (standardised for age). The prevalence is highest in India at over 6% and Bangladesh at over 3%.[1] Rates are declining quite rapidly in these countries, but overall at a very low rate and in some countries they are actually increasing.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director


  1. Razak F, Corsi DJ, Slutsky AS, et al. Prevalence of Body Mass Index Lower Than 16 Among Women in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. JAMA. 2015; 314(20): 2164-71.

One thought on “The Obesity Challenge is Very Real, but What About Extreme Low Weight?”

  1. Dear Richard,
    that is right. The underweight is worse than overweight. More, it may not be limited to the severe underweight. If we look at the non-estern populations, like Russia, India, China, the ‘optimum’ Quetelet-2 index is about 22-28 (as I remember)

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