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Underweight children face health problems, too

Bryn Mawr Hospital February 4, 2014 General Wellness

With recent news that show obesity to be an epidemic and Americans and the fact that many children are opting for computers and video games over time spent outside, it might seem like the last thing on any parent’s mind is how to help their child gain weight. But for some parents, having children who are too thin and struggle to gain weight is a persistent problem. Although many parents might think that having an underweight child is preferable to having an overweight one, being too thin poses health problems, too.“A child who is underweight is more likely to get sick and might begin to notice daily symptoms like feeling weak or tired and having trouble concentrating in school,” explains Wenonah Nelson, MD, pediatrician at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “It could also mean a delay in the onset of puberty and potentially affect their growth.”But what constitutes underweight? Sometimes, weighing your child may not be enough to determine whether or not they’re at risk for symptoms like these. Typically, if a child’s BMI for their age and gender is less than the fifth percentile, they can be considered underweight, but it’s best to talk to your physician for their opinion.

“An appointment can help you determine not only if your child is underweight but the reason, whether it is illness, an eating disorder or simply an insufficient calorie intake for the child's energy expenditure,” says Dr. Nelson.

If your doctor recommends weight gain, your goal as a parent is to help your child take in more calories. Look for recipes or foods that offer heart-healthy sources of fat, like pistachios, walnuts, avocados, whole wheat pasta and eggs. Foods like these can add calories in a healthy way.

Finally, make sure you have a conversation with your child about a positive body image and that you are promoting a healthy lifestyle for them to follow. With the abundance of messages about obesity and being overweight, some children may be afraid of eating too much. Communicate the importance of making healthy choices and promoting a healthy body image at home.

Looking for a pediatrician? Visit our website to find a Main Line Health pediatrician in your area.