- Children and teens may be underweight due to health problems or it could be an indication of malnutrition. A child is considered underweight when their Body Mass Index (BMI) is below the 5th percentile for their age and gender.
- Warning signs that a child may be underweight include decline on the growth chart during annual pediatric visits, failure to outgrow clothes, and obvious physical signs like protruding ribs.
- Health issues such as hormonal imbalances, digestive problems, food allergies, and certain medication side effects can result in a child being underweight. Busy sports schedules for older kids may also contribute.
- Following a vegetarian diet can potentially lead to underweight issues in children, but majority of the kids in the study remained within a healthy weight range.
- For a healthy weight gain, experts recommend avoiding excessive snacking and reliance on fruit juices and protein powders. Instead, meals and snacks should be nutrient-rich, such as eggs, bean soups, hummus, and avocado, and calories can be boosted with smoothies loaded with nutrients.
Childhood obesity frequently garners attention, however, some kids face the opposite challenge — they have difficulty putting on weight. This raises a common question, “Is my child underweight?”
Gaining insights from a child’s pediatrician is advisable, but expert opinions can also be beneficial. It’s important to understand that children and teens may be underweight due to underlying health problems or it may be a warning sign of malnutrition, as observed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a recent investigation on underweight children in the United States.
Determining If Your Child Is Underweight
As per the CDC research, children are classified as underweight when their Body Mass Index (BMI) falls beneath the 5th percentile for their respective age and gender. If a child is found underweight, their pediatrician may probe into medical history or even request tests to uncover undetected health issues.
Dr. Gary Kirkilas, a general pediatrician, in an American Academy of Pediatrics article, addressed the issue, “Children with BMI under the 5th percentile could be nutritionally deficient — either not consuming enough calories or burning more than intake, or even a combination of both.”
There are several indicators that can reveal if a child is underweight. According to Jennifer Hyland, a pediatric registered dietitian, these signs involve a declining rate on the growth chart during annual pediatric visits or failure to outgrow clothes with each passing season. More obvious physical signs could be noticeably protruding ribs.
Health Factors Impacting Child’s Weight
It’s possible that kids falling in the 5th percentile range could have nutrition inadequacies — they might be eating less or burning more calories than they consume. A myriad of health problems can lead a child to be underweight, ranging from hormonal or digestive issues to food allergies or even the side effects of certain medications, such as those used for ADHD. Overloaded sports schedules for older kids may contribute to being underweight.
Diet plays a crucial role in a child’s weight. As per a recent research in the journal Pediatrics, vegetarian kids were twice as likely to be underweight, although the majority (94%) of the kids in the study were not underweight.
Gaining Weight Healthily
To encourage healthy weight gain, Hyland discourages dining in front of electronics, excessive snacking, or relying on fruit juices and protein powders. She recommends adding olive oil or other healthy oils and nut butters to children’s diet for weight gain. The CDC also highlighted the pitfalls of “empty calories”, revealing their contribution of about 40% in children’s diets.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises keeping meals and snacks nutrient-rich. Good protein sources also include eggs, bean soups and hummus. Adding avocado slices to burgers and salads and incorporating smoothies loaded with nutrients can boost calorie intake.
If your child maintains sufficient calorie intake but continues to struggle gaining weight, work closely with your doctor to uncover any underlying conditions. Patience, along with conscientious meal and snack plans, offer a good chance for your child to achieve a healthy weight and height balance.