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Sex differences and associations between zinc deficiency and anemia among hospitalized adolescents and young adults with eating disorders



To determine sex differences in and associations between zinc deficiency and anemia among adolescents and young adults hospitalized for medical complications of eating disorders.


We retrospectively reviewed electronic medical records of 601 patients aged 9-25 years admitted to the University of California, San Francisco Eating Disorders Program for medical instability, between May 2012 and August 2020. Descriptive statistics, crude, and adjusted logistic regression models were used to assess the association between zinc deficiency (< 55 mcg/dL) and anemia (< 13.6 g/dL in males [M] and < 11.8 g/dL in females [F]).


A total of 87 males and 450 females met eligibility criteria (age 15.98 ± 2.81, 59.4% anorexia nervosa; admission body mass index 17.49 ± 2.82). In unadjusted comparisons, plasma zinc in males and females were not statistically different (M 64.88 ± 14.89 mcg/dL vs F 63.81 ± 13.96 mcg/dL, p = 0.517); moreover, there were no differences in the percentage of males and females with zinc deficiency (M 24.14% vs F 24.89%). However, a greater percentage of males than females were anemic (M 50.00% vs F 17.61%, p < 0.001), with similar findings in the subgroup with anorexia nervosa. In logistic regression models stratified by sex and eating disorder diagnosis, zinc deficiency was significantly associated with anemia in males (AOR 3.43, 95% CI 1.16, 10.13), but not females (AOR 1.47, 95% CI 0.86, 2.54).


For the first time, we demonstrate that zinc deficiency is equally severe in males compared to females hospitalized with medical complications from eating disorders, with nearly a quarter of inpatients experiencing zinc deficiency. Anemia is more common in males than females hospitalized with eating disorders.

Level of evidence

Level V: descriptive cross-sectional study.

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