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Growth concerns among children
Some problems in infants, kids, or teens may prevent them from meeting realistic growth expectations. However, a healthy, balanced diet, proper sleep and regular exercise can check some of these troubles
Dr Anjali Mukerjee Dr Anjali Mukerjee

Are you worried that your childís classmates are getting taller and developing into young adults, but your child's growth seems to be lagging behind? Does the thought that whether something is wrong with your childís growth pattern constantly nags you?

Well, whilst some kids may just grow more slowly than others simply because their parents did, too, other children may have an actual growth disorder. This can be any type of problem in infants, kids, or teens that prevents them from meeting realistic expectations of growing process, from failure to gain height and weight in young children to short stature or delayed sexual development in teens. Though it might not be possible for you to manipulate the changes taking place in the body, you can surely keep your childís body in top shape by guiding them to eat a healthy, balanced diet, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.

Breakfast is important for a child. It gives him protein and energy to kick start the day and to carry him till lunch Thinkstock
Breakfast is important for a child. It gives him protein and energy to kick start the day and to carry him till lunch

Make sure your child drinks at least a glass of fruit juice everyday to get his share of antioxidants
Make sure your child drinks at least a glass of fruit juice everyday to get his share of antioxidants

Encourage children to play outdoors as exercise gives them strong bones and good muscle tone
Encourage children to play outdoors as exercise gives them strong bones and good muscle tone

Sleep is very essential for better muscle growth, so try to get your child to sleep at least 8-9 hours each night
Sleep is very essential for better muscle growth, so try to get your child to sleep at least 8-9 hours each night

The variations in the growth pattern of children may be attributed to conditions such as constitutional growth delay (describes children who are small for their ages but are growing at a normal rate) or being genetically predisposed to be of short stature or thin built (This is a condition in which shorter parents tend to have shorter children ). With both constitutional growth delay and genetic short stature, children and families need to be reassured that the child does not have a disease or medical condition that poses a threat to health or that requires treatment. However, because they may be short or may not enter puberty when their classmates do, some kids with these growth patterns may need extra help coping with teasing by their peers and an extra attention to their dietary habits and lifestyle choices.

While a short child, who's healthy and growing at a normal rate, may just be observed throughout childhood, a child who has stopped growing or is growing more slowly than expected will often need additional testing like blood tests, bone X-rays, hormonal assay and at times MRI to rule out any disorders. If an underlying medical condition is identified, specific treatment would be suggested to improve the growth rate.

Role of nutrition

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in meeting daily energy needs, enhancing immunity and improving both cognitive and physical performance. Usually, children are underweight because of their wrong eating habits like skipping meals, eating small meals, inadequate nutrition, stress, worms, nervous conditions, over activity, heredity, poor digestion and emotional factors like anxiety, fear of the unknown. The best foods, which would help your child to gain height and weight, are going to be those, which are healthy, low-volume and also calorie-dense.

Guidelines to ensure optimum growth for your child and teenagers:

1 While most adults can do well on a three-meal-a-day routine, children need frequent and small nutritious meals, so that they have the energy to carry out their daily activities. Different foods have different nutrients, so it's important to give your child a variety of foods on a regular basis. Include complex carbohydrates like wheat chapattis, paranthas, ragi (rich in iron), makai (is gluten free) rich sources of protein (milk, curd, cheese, eggs, fish, which are essential to maintain and repair tissues), adequate amount of calcium from milk, leafy vegetables and dals and vegetables and fruits (vitamins and anti-oxidants) in the diet.

2 Make sure your child eats adequate protein as protein is necessary for growth.

3 Breakfast is an important meal for the whole family and more so for a child as it gives her/him the protein and energy and she/he needs to kick start the day and to carry her/him through to lunch. Give a strawberry milk shake or a chocolate milk shake if she/he is fussing over drinking plain milk. Fruit juices are rich in antioxidants and an ideal breakfast accompaniment. Cheese slices on whole grain bread or whole-wheat khakra serves as a tasty and healthy breakfast food. Green moong sprouts mixed with chopped green salad and dressed with grated cheese and curd, rice kheer/porridge made with milk, oats and milk, almonds, sesame seeds and jaggery, milk and muesli, eggs with roti or wheat breads are a few nutritious options for your child.

4 Foods rich in the amino acid arginine help promote release of growth hormone. Good food sources of arginine include coconut, dairy products, oats, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, walnut and wheat germ. Incorporate these foods in your childís daily menu.

5 Parents need not worry about or condemn and forbid the children from eating snacks. What children need help is in making the wise choices. Healthy snacks would include fruits, nuts (almonds & peanuts) sprouts bhel, vegetable frankies (made with whole wheat flour), curd, paneer, tofu, roasted or steamed corn, etc. Walnuts, figs, dates and apricots also make healthy snack foods for children.

6 Burgers, pizzas, grilled sandwiches, chicken rolls, cakes, pastries, French fries, brownies; pav bhaji, samosa, etc are high in white flour (maida), sugar and hydrogenated fat. Children consuming such foods get malnourished (as they need more nutrients during their growth phase) when they subsist on a diet of fast foods. As parents, try to encourage them to eat properly at meal times so that they donít gravitate towards fast foods.

7 Encourage children to indulge in outdoor activities and sports. Strong bones and a good muscle tone are some of the key benefits derived from regular physical activity.

8 Include healthy fats like nuts (almonds, walnuts, groundnuts, pistachios etc), oils like olive oil, canola oil, rice bran oil, coconut nut oil in the diet. Intake of saturated fats like butter and ghee should not be restricted if your child is underweight.

9 Sleep is very essential for better muscle growth, so try to get your child to sleep at least 8-9 hours each night.

10 Make sure your child drinks at least one glass of fruit juice everyday in order to get his share of antioxidants to avoid falling sick and boost immunity.

11 Above all, make sure your child is not overweight as obesity decreases release of growth hormone and may stunt his growth.

One common denominator for getting children to eat healthier and avoid growth problems is your active role in providing healthy foods. When you get in the habit of making these foods more readily available to your child, you will see a change in their eating habits. Work with your child to encourage a healthy lifestyle that incorporates sound eating habits and regular exercise. You may both benefit in the process.

The writer is a nutritionist. She treats obesity and related health disorders online . She can be reached at ask@health-total.com / www.health-total.com





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