Please don’t Supersize Me – SCI nutrition and weight issues


Those with SCI need fewer calories than the non-paralyzed.  This is because metabolic activity decreases after SCI due to denervated muscle.

Generally, those with paraplegia should weigh  5-10% and those with tetraplegia, 10-15%  less than normative weight tables.  Just as important is the measure of body fat (Body Mass Index).  Because persons with SCI have lower muscle mass, normative BMI charts also do not apply.  New research suggests a BMI of 22 should be used to defined obesity in those with SCI.  This is compared to BMI of over 30 in the general population.

A recent study of weight gain following SCI found a significant increase in BMI after a new SCI.  In particular within the first year after acute rehabilitation.  Age, level of injury and impairment category did not significantly predict BMI change.  Crane DA, Little JW, Burns SP,  J Spinal Cord Med. 2011;34(2):227-32.

Medical complications can result after SCI when weight and BMI becomes too high:

  1. The risk increases for diabetes, elevated cholesterol and obesity
  2. There is a tendency to gain weight.  This affects mobility and independence.
  3. The risk increases for developing pressure sores
  4. The risk increases for osteoporosis

See the companion articles on general guidelines for weight control.

Source: Vickeri Barton, RD, CD, Associate Director of Nutrition and Services, Harborview Medical Center. Presentation April 2011.

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About Karen
Karen Koehler, partner at the nationally recognized law firm of SKW, blogs about all things related to spinal cord injuries...More
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