By: Dr. Michelle MD
|Of all of the miracles we witness every day, the growth of our children
is one of the most remarkable. The growth spurt in the first year of life
is truly incredible. Imagine how crazy it would be if we found ourselves
triple our current weight and 50% taller one year from now. We do not seem
at all surprised when it happens to the average 7 pound newborn infant.(Smaller babies often nearly quadruple their weight, and larger babies only
double their weight, but we will use the average sized boy baby for the
sake of this discussion.) One thing we all understand is that the infant
needs to eat to grow. A voracious appetite driven by the need to grow allows
the baby to consume over 100 calories per kilogram every day.
That is the equivalent of an adult consuming 6000 to 7000 calories a day! For the first
few months, when the infant is still unable to move around much, the fat
piles up all over the body, and the baby reaches double his birth weight.
From about 4-6 months of age on, some of the calories are burned by activity
and the baby gains weight less rapidly.
This rapid growth rate tapers off at about one year of age. For the next
few years, the child consumes fewer calories than he did in infancy. The
increase in weight is only about 3-4 pounds and in height only about 3 inches
for the whole second year of life. The appetite is considerably smaller
and the activity level is relentless. The toddler only needs about 20-24
ounces of milk a day and only eats about two tablespoons of each food at
a meal. Many parents are alarmed by this decrease in consumption. They try
to feed the child even when he is not hungry. This is not wise. Many studies
have shown that children will eat as much as they need if offered a variety
The Real Job
When it comes to food, the most important
job that parents have during the toddler and childhood years is to encourage
good eating habits in their children. A balanced diet of fruits and vegetables,
high quality proteins, unsaturated fats and high fiber carbohydrates not
only nourishes the child, it also gives him the enjoyment for these foods
throughout life. This is the key to healthy eating as an adult. Healthy
eating habits also include eating real meals while sitting at the table,
and eating about two snacks a day. Even the snacks should be at set times
of day for toddlers so the child learns the difference between “eating
times” and “play” or “sleep times.” The toddler who has a continuous nosh all day long has a much harder time limiting his
eating when he is older.
As the child grows slowly through
the ages of 3-11 he eats only about one tablespoon per year of age for
typical portions of the food at his meals. He should drink about 20 ounces
of milk or eat yogurt, cottage cheese or cheese instead of some of these
ounces. Juice should be limited to only 4 ounces a day, preferably as one
drink. The rest of the drinks should be water. The habit of always drinking
sweet drinks is another cause of weight problems later on. Water is refreshing,
convenient and even has fluoride to help teeth. A sport bottle, filled with
cold tap water is usually acceptable as a take along drink for kids.
At around age 11 for girls, and age 14
for boys, another growth spurt starts and parents are amazed at the increase
in their child’s appetite. This can be particularly alarming when
the child starts storing fat around the abdomen before the growth actually
starts to accelerate. This is a very tricky and important time. There is
a delicate balance between the need to grow, the amount of calories used
by exercise, the need to eat for social and emotional gratification, and
the genetic makeup of the child. It is very important to have the
child’s doctor monitor the growth in height and weight during the
pre-adolescent and adolescent years.
Inches and Pounds
Fueling the actual growth during
this last big growth spurt requires a lot of calories. The teenager gets
very hungry, often later in the evening. The height increases in spurts,
causing a need for extra food. Every inch a girl grows increases the weight
by about 5 pounds. Every inch a boy grows increases the weight about 7 pounds.
This is because the heart, liver and other organs increase in size, and
the bones and muscles become longer and stronger.
To gain a pound, the body needs to take in about 3500 calories more than
the amount used. This is why I warn mothers that they must count a growing
adolescent boy as two people to feed! How much of this extra eating is enough?
How much is too much? This can depend on the build of the child. Children
with broader frames gain more than children with smaller frames. The 5-7
pound per inch average is for average-sized kids. It is important
that the growing adolescent be allowed to feel satisfied and not hungry.
The most important help you can give your growing teenager is to make sure
there is real, high quality food around when he or she needs to eat. An
extra portion of chicken, a tuna burger, and other real substantial food
will fill him up without needing the greasy snack foods. Salads and fruit
alone will not be enough, since their calorie content is low.
Activity and Growth
Growing bones and muscles strengthen
and straighten when actively exercised. The level of activity often determines
posture, and overall balanced weight gain during this growth period. These
kids should walk to school and back, run around and play active games during
the daytime breaks, and generally not sit down during their spare time.
This is a physical need of the growing body.
If a growing adolescent tries to
control his or her intake too strictly during this time, the final, actual
growth could be stunted. Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia can
cause a derangement of their maturation and growth that can affect the rest
of their lives.
On the other hand, excessive weight gain during this growth period can lead
to a lifetime of struggling to maintain a healthy body weight. There is
a particular danger to being obese as an adolescent. The risk of diabetes
is much greater than it is when the excess weight is acquired in adulthood.
If there is obesity and diabetes in the family, the risk is even higher,
so, in these families, every effort must be made to avoid obesity during
Habits for a Lifetime
We have a great responsibility
to be conscious of our children’s eating habits. Good habits formed
early, last a lifetime. We should consider the role junk foods play in our
everyday life. If we could only limit these treats for special occasions,
they would not be such a big factor in our children’s diets. Now that
we know how important eating habits are, we can make the effort to do the
right thing for our families.
aBaby.com offers many products to meet your needs. To View - Click the following links.
Baby Gear >