Parents should consistently track their children’s growth — and with good reason. This development can be an important indicator of how their overall health is shaping up. But children’s growth isn’t always steady. There will likely be periods of rapid growth and times when growth slows or even plateaus.
So, whether you’re tracking your child’s height on a wall or carefully jotting down measurements in a journal, how can you tell if their growth is on track, especially with regard to slow or stunted growth?
According to Dr Nina Mazera Mohd Said, Medical Director of Abbott Nutrition Malaysia, there are several key indicators of healthy growth in children. And the best way to make sure your child is hitting those is by providing good nutrition.
What Constitutes Healthy Growth?
When a child is slow to grow or is experiencing a growth plateau, it’s easy to get discouraged by the numbers. However, when your pediatrician sizes up your child’s height and weight, they are looking for a consistent trend — not a magic number. For instance, if your child has always been in the 25th percentile on the growth chart, there’s no cause for concern as long as they stay on that curve. However, a sudden drop to the 10th percentile could be a red flag. Consistent increases in height and weight are some of the most important indicators of healthy growth.
When a child is behind in growth early on, changes in weight are often the first clue. Chronic undernutrition can affect a child’s height and lead to stunted growth.
How Can Nutrition Affect Children’s Growth and Development?
Slowed growth can have far-reaching effects, such as impacting a child’s activity levels, performance in school, and may even increase their risk for chronic diseases later in life1. If you’re worried your child’s growth may be falling behind, schedule a visit with your pediatrician to get an expert opinion.
Nutrition is a primary factor that can affect growth and development, especially in the first five years of a child’s life. By the age of 5, children will achieve 60% of their adult height2. With nutrition contributing 80% of a child’s height potential, starting children early on a nutritious diet with a sufficient amount of calories is crucial to set them up for optimal growth3. The remaining 20% of a child’s height potential is determined by genetics3.
Are Some Nutrients More Beneficial in a Growing Child’s Diet?
According to a WHO study, children from different ethnic backgrounds grow at very similar rates when they receive sufficient nutrition and a supportive environment4. Good nutrition can go a long way in supporting your child’s growth, but knowing where to start can be tough.
Parents can begin by taking a closer look at how their child is eating, especially if they suspect they’re lagging in growth. Have there been changes in their diet? If your child is eating poorly because they are picky eaters or have limited appetites, it is quite likely that they aren’t getting all the nutrition they need. Adding a complete and balanced oral nutrition supplement like PediaSure® can be key to overcome this.
When choosing a nutrition supplement, look for one that provides quality calories as well as nutrients that are proven to support growth, such as:
• High quality protein that includes arginine to support longer bone growth5. Turn to meats, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt and beans.
• Calcium and vitamins D and K2 to help build strong bones6. Find calcium in dairy foods, vitamin D in fish, egg yolks and orange juice and vitamin K2 in fermented foods, cheese and eggs.
For busy parents, putting nutritious meals on the table isn’t always easy. But Dr Nina emphasises that nutrition remains a key factor in supporting a child’s optimal growth and learning potential and should not be neglected.
“It is crucial that parents recognise the importance of providing the right nutrition to help their children achieve their maximum growth potential,” she explains. “Ensure their diets are filled with nutrient-dense foods and consider adding in an oral nutrition supplement, if needed.”
If you find that your child is ravenous by lunchtime, snacks can be a great way to ensure they’re getting all the nutrients they need. There are many tasty and nutritious snacks you can add to your child’s diet, but be sure to consult your child’s doctor or dietitian at your nearest IMFeD clinic before making significant changes to their diet. They can help you pinpoint the exact areas of nutrition where your child may be falling short, so you can help set them on the right track to optimal growth and development.
1World Health Organization. Stunted growth and development. Available from www.who.int/nutrition/childhood_stunting_framework_leaflet_en.pdf?ua=1. Last accessed November 21, 2019.
2World Health Organization. Growth Standards. Available from www.who.int/childgrowth/standards/Technical_report.pdf?ua=1. Last accessed November 21, 2019.
3Jelenkovic A et al. Genetic and environmental influences on height from infancy to early adulthood: An individual-based pooled analysis of 45 twin cohorts. Sci. Rep. 6, 28496; doi : 10.1038/srep28496.
4WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study Group 2006. Assessment of differences in linear growth among populations.
5Van Vught AJ et al. Dietary arginine and linear growth: The Copenhagen school child intervention study. Br J Nutr (2013), 109, 1031-1039.
6Van Summeren MJ et al. Vitamin K status is associated with childhood bone mineral content. Br J Nutr (2008), 100, 852-858.
This article was written by Abbott Nutrition Malaysia and has been published with permission