Some children would rather talk and move than eat.
They tend to be "built like a stick." With today's emphasis on the
prevention of childhood obesity, kids who are too thin often escape
While being underweight often appears preferable to being
overweight, the reality is that being too slender also has risks
and repercussions. For example, underweight children may be prone
to infection due to easily compromised immune systems.
Is your child underweight?
Parents are not the best judge of whether their child is
too thin, according to Rachel Saccaro, D.O., a pediatrician with
Central Medical Clinic in Chicago. She suggests asking your
pediatrician, who charts their weight and body mass index every
visit. The BMI takes the child's height, weight, gender and age
"A BMI of less than 5 percent is considered
underweight," she explains.
Causes of underweight
There are three main categories for poor weight gain,
Saccaro says. "Too few calories in, not absorbing enough calories,
or using up too many calories. The simplest to fix is the first
She says malabsorption of calories may be a
gastrointestinal problem like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac
disease. Chronic diseases such as asthma, a heart condition,
thyroid problems or infection could cause the child to burn too
"The causes often differ depending on the age of the
child. For example, in infancy, the cause is more likely to be
underfeeding or feeding difficulties whereas a teenager might have
an eating disorder or depression," says Saccaro, the
mother of both a tween and a toddler.
Some of the more common symptoms of an eating disorder are
interruptions in the menstrual cycle, fatigue, depression and an
irregular heartbeat. Children with eating disorders may appear
anxious at mealtimes or prefer to eat alone. Another psychological
cause of underweight can be excess stress, which may cause a lack
of appetite. Finally, your slim child's weight and body
shape are also influenced by their "lean genes" causing a
higher than average metabolic rate.
If your child is built like a
While taking vitamins may not make a difference, there are
other things that can.
For serious cases, get to the root of the cause of a
Regardless of the cause, it usually is a team effort to
ensure the child grows and thrives. It often is helpful to talk
with a dietitian, social worker, developmental specialist, and
support groups depending on the reason for malnutrition.
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.
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