Best Advice for Underweight children

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underweight child causes

Many children are underweight, no matter of their age. Children who are between 2 – 4 years old may be small, but they are growing and they need the energy (calories) and nutrients that come from a varied and balanced diet. Also, this is the same situation with children aged 6 – 12. If your child is underweight, they he or she may not be getting enough calories. If you are concerned that your child is underweight or not growing normally, then you need to see your doctor.

The low weight can happen for many different reasons. If you think that your child is intolerant to a particular food or has a food allergy, then you need to talk with your doctor to find out exactly what may be causing their symptoms, so you can eliminate those foods from your child’s diet.

Underweight children

How can you know that your child is underweight

As a parent, it can be difficult to tell if your child is underweight? If you know the height and weight of your child and if you want to know if they have a healthy weight for their age, height and sex, then you can talk with your doctor or you can use healthy weight calculators which are found easily online. If your child is in reception (this 4 and 5 ages), they may have already been weighed and their height measured by doctors, usually it is done by the National Child Measurement Programme [1].

In some areas, the result of child is send to parents. In other areas, parents have to contact their local authority to find out the measurements of your child. If the results have shown that your child is underweight, then you should talk with your doctor about the possible causes for it. If there is some problem with your child’s diet, then your doctor can give you advice which will help bring your child up to a healthy weight or refer them to a dietitian.

Your child’s diet

All children need the energy (calories) and nutrients which come from a varied and balanced diet. If your child is underweight, then it may be tempting to fill them up with high – calorie, but unhealthy foods, like chocolate, cake, sweets and sugary and fatty foods and drinks. It is very important for your child to gain weight in a healthy way, which means he or she needs to eat a balanced diet. When your child is five, then he or she can eat a healthy and low – fat diet, like the one recommended for adults. [2]

What is a balanced diet

The government advice parents to give their children aged five and over the Eatwell Guide. The Eatwell Guide shows how much of every group we should eat to achieve healthy and balanced diet. You and your child do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but you should try to get balance right over a day or even a week. Your children should eat at least five portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables on daily basis. The EatWell Guide shows the proportions in which different types of foods are needed to have balanced diet:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. The government recommends six to eight cups or glasses per day.
  • You should choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts.
  • Your child should eat at least five portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Your child should eat some beans and pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein. You should aim for two portions of fish every week, one of it should be oily, such as mackerel or salmon.
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks and yoghurts). You should choose for your children lower – fat and lower – sugar options.
  • Base meals on rice, bread, potatoes, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates and choose wholegrain where possible.

You should try to choose a variety of different foods from the five main food groups which are mentioned above. Your child should consume foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar less often and in small amounts. There are some studies done in UK in which are shown that many people eat and drink too many calories, too much fat, sugar and salt and not enough fibre, oily fish, vegetables or fruit.

Underweight children’s meals at home

We live in this modern era where we barely find time to cook and not many parents are able to prepare healthy and balanced meals for the whole family. If this is your case, then it might be a reason why your child is not consuming enough calories. You should try to make time for breakfast and dinner and eat together as a family. You should make the mealtime a fun part of the day. [3]

Underweight children’s lunches

It is very important to consult with your doctor for your child’s diet, because there are differences in the diet in children aged 2 – 5 and children aged 6 – 12. During the week, your child will eat food at school, so it is not possible to monitor exactly what your child eats away from the home, but you can help your child to make healthy choices. You should find out what the school’s healthy eating policy is. You should talk with your child about the importance of a healthy and balanced diet.

You should give your child prepaid school lunches, or a healthy packed lunch, instead of giving money that your child can spend on food. Nowadays, school lunches are more likely to meet a child’s nutritional requirements compared with the average packaged lunch. If you want to make your child a packed lunch, then you should be sure that it is nutritionally balanced. The healthier packed lunch include:

  • Include fresh fruits and vegetables or salad of them
  • You should include a drink, such as water, skimmed or semi – skimmed milk, sugar – free or no added sugar drink
  • Be based on starched carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes and bread)
  • Include a side dish, such as low – fat and lower – sugar yoghurt (or dairy alternative), tea cake, fruit bread, plain rice or corn cakes, homemade plain popcorn, sugar – free jelly
  • Include protein such as beans and pulses, meat, fish, eggs (or dairy alternative)

Vitamins for underweight children

There are many doctors who are recommending children aged between 6 months and 5 years to be given Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin D [4] drops. These vitamins are very important for underweight children, who may not be eating a diet which is varied enough to provide all the nutrients they need. You can ask your doctor where to get vitamins drops or speak with your pharmacist for more advice.

How to increase your child’s calorie intake

You should try increasing the portion size of your child at mealtimes, especially for starchy foods, such as potatoes, pasta, rice and bread, because this can help your child to gain weight in natural way. If your child finds it hard to eat larger portions, then you try to increase the energy density of your child’s meals, until they have reached a healthy weight. The energy density is the amount of energy (calories) per gram of food.

The higher density foods tend to be higher in fat, such as nut butter, whole milk, nuts and cheese. You should try to give tuna pasta bake to your children. Also, you can try to give your child a jacket potato with baked beans topped with grated cheese. Also, you can give him or mashed avocado topped with chopped hardboiled egg on whole-meal toast. You can boost your child’s daily calorie intake by providing healthier snacks. The great snack include:

  • You should prepare breadsticks and vegetable – based dips, such as hummus
  • Small sandwiches with a protein filling, such as eggs or cheese
  • Yoghurt, which contains protein and calcium
  • Cheese and crackers or cheese on whole-meal or brown bread

Keep your child active

Even if your children are underweight, it is very important to stay physically active. The physical activity can help to develop strong and healthy bones         and muscles. It is very important part of how they learn about themselves and the world and at the same time, they will have fun. Children who are over 5 should do a minimum of sixty minutes of at least moderate – intensity activity each day. The amount of physical activity of your child which should do may be different if he or she is underweight. Your doctor, school nurse or practice nurse can advice you on this. [5]

Monitor your child’s progress

If you give your child a healthy diet using the mentioned things above, then you should see your child’s weight and growth improve. You should keep regular records of your child’s height and weight and take your child back to your doctor to check that their weight gain is happening as it should. When your child has reached a healthy weight, then his or her diet may need adjusting, so they do not become overweight.

References:

[1] Falconer CL, Park MH, Croker H, et al. The benefits and harms of providing parents with weight feedback as part of the national child measurement programme: a prospective cohort study. BMC Public Health. 2014.

[2] Kuster I, Vila N. Healthy lifestyle and eating perceptions: correlations with weight and low-fat and low-sugar food consumption in adolescence. Frontiers in Life Science. 2017;10(1):48-62.

[3] Savage JS, Fisher JO, Birch LL. Parental influence on eating behavior: Conception to adolescence. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. 2007;35(1):22–34.

[4] Queen Mary University of London. Vitamin D improves weight gain and brain development in malnourished children. Science Daily. 2018. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180501193527.htm

[5] Chung AE, Skinner AC, Steiner MJ, Perrin EM. Physical activity and BMI in a nationally representative sample of children and adolescents. Clinical Pediatrics. 2012;51(2):122–9.

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