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Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Sep;56(9):857-65.

Body composition in early onset eating disorders.

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  • 1Brain and Behavioural Sciences Unit, Institute of Child Health, London, UK.



Body mass index (BMI) or equivalent weight for height indices are the most widely used measures of body composition in early onset and adolescent eating disorders. Although of value as screening instruments the limitation in disease states is their inability to discriminate fat and fat-free components of body weight.


To compare height-adjusted fat and fat-free components of body composition in children and young adolescents with different types of eating disorders with those of age matched reference children.


Weight, height, triceps and subscapular skinfold thickness were measured in 172 children (aged 7-16 y) with eating disorders receiving specialist treatment. Fat mass index (FMI) and fat-free mass index (FFMI) were calculated using Slaughter's and Deurenberg's equations and normalisation for height. Using data from 157 normal children, representative of the UK 1990 growth reference data, reference curves for FMI and FFMI+/-2 s.d. were derived. Results for patient groups were superimposed on these reference curves.


FMI and FFMI were both reduced in eating disorders associated with malnutrition, including anorexia nervosa (AN). AN subjects did not differ from other subjects with comparable degrees of malnutrition. Children with eating disorders of normal weight, such as bulimia nervosa and selective eating, did not differ significantly from reference children in their relative FM and FFM.


FM and FFM merit independent consideration in disorders of malnutrition in children, rather than expressing data as percentage body fat or percentage BMI. The implications of loss of FFM on growth and development merit further investigation.

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