Grasping the weight cut-off for anorexia nervosa in children and adolescents

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OBJECTIVE: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 suggests the 5th age-adjusted body mass index (BMI) percentile as the numeric cut-off for anorexia nervosa (AN) in children and adolescents. We aimed to investigate the degree to which the 5th age-adjusted percentile as the numeric cut-off for AN in youths reflects the clinical population of patients accepted for treatment.

METHOD: From a specialized eating disorder clinic, 305 patients with AN below 18 years of age were grouped according to age-adjusted BMI percentiles [below the 5th (low), above the 10th (high), and between the 5th and the 10th (medium)]. The distribution of eating disorder diagnoses and severity measured by the Eating Disorder Examination was compared.

RESULTS: Full-syndrome anorexia nervosa (F.50.0) was found in 182 (59.5%) patients and atypical anorexia nervosa (F.50.1) in 123 patients (40.5%). The number of patients in the low, medium, and high BMI percentile groups was 189 (62.0%), 34 (11.1%), and 82 (26.9%), respectively. Patients in the low BMI group differed from patients in the medium BMI group by a lower frequency of vomiting. The high BMI group presented with more weight and shape concern than the lower BMI group. Age was not a confounder of these associations.

DISCUSSION: We question the applicability of the 5th BMI percentile as a substantiated cut-off for the weight criterion in anorexia nervosa in youths and argue that the cut-off should not be ascribed great clinical importance as this may hinder early detection of illness and initiation of treatment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Volume51
Issue12
Pages (from-to)1346-1351
Number of pages6
ISSN0276-3478
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

    Research areas

  • adolescent psychiatry, anorexia nervosa, atypical anorexia nervosa, body mass index, child psychiatry, eating disorder, Thinness, thinness

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