Children come in all shapes and sizes. But if you’re noticing that your child is shorter than her friends at school, it’s natural to wonder, Is my child growing normally?
And it’s a question worth asking. In 2015, The World Bank found that, globally, 23 percent of children younger than five years are shorter than is recommended for their age.
“Slowed growth is not just a physical issue, it also impacts learning and development in childhood and adolescence,” explains Francisco J. Rosales, MD, ScD, medical director of Scientific and Medical Affairs at Abbott. “But it is also important to recognize that there are a lot of things that can impact a child’s height and growth rate,” Rosales says.
This is why physicians use pediatric growth charts—series of curves that plot your child’s growth patterns along with large-scale population data—to make sure that your child is following a healthy growth pattern. Any sizeable dip in your child’s growth pattern may be a cause for concern.
By staying proactive, though, you can spot signs of slowed growth in your child—and most importantly, catch him up to his healthiest potential through balanced nutrition.
For instance, a recent study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics has shown that slowed growth doesn’t have to be permanent, with kids as old as three and four years successfully catching up through nutritional intervention and dietary counseling. This study found:
Another study published in The Journal of Nutrition showed that, after catching up, children whose growth was previously stunted had similar cognitive test scores to children who were never stunted.
Catch Your Child Up with “Growth Nutrients”
Growth requires energy, which is why underweight children need extra calories in order to catch up, says Jennifer Williams, MPH, a research scientist at Abbott. Check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for age-specific guidelines for children’s caloric intake. Add extra calories to those recommendations to help your child’s growth patterns get back on track, but make sure they’re not empty calories. Check out the rest of our tips for healthy ways to increase your child’s caloric intake.
2. Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat
Extra calories can help fuel growth, but it’s important to make sure those calories are coming from a healthy blend of carbohydrates, protein and fat. To get a balanced array, Williams recommends that your child’s meals follow local health association guidelines. Also, keep in mind that carbohydrates and protein both contain four calories per gram, while each gram of dietary fat contains nine.
During periods of growth, the body is highly dependent on iron, which helps to deliver oxygen to the body’s cells. A paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that increasing iron intake, both through foods and nutritional supplements like PediaSure, can encourage growth in iron-deficient children. Iron-rich foods include meat, seafood, beans, peas, fortified cereals and dark, leafy greens.
Increasing zinc intake can help underweight, pre-pubertal children catch up, according to a meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Beef, spinach, shrimp and kidney beans are all solid sources of zinc.
5. Vitamin D
Critical for the body’s absorption of calcium, the sunshine vitamin promotes healthy bone formation and growth. However, 40 percent of otherwise healthy infants and toddlers have sub-par vitamin D levels, according to research in The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. You can help get your child’s levels where they need to be with extra outdoor playtime (sun exposure bolsters levels), D-rich foods such as milk/dairy and mushrooms and, if needed, supplementation.