Is your child of the right size? Here's how to tell
Ms Kua Jo-Ann, Nutritionist at Kinderland Singapore, answers parents’ fear over their kids’ sizes
Many Singaporean parents are concerned about their child’s size, in particular, their child’s height and weight. If you too are wondering if your child is the right size for their age, we’re here to address some of your concerns.
We spoke to Ms Jo-Ann Kua, the Nutritionist at Kinderland Singapore, for some answers to this all-too-common question: is your child of the right size?
How can parents tell if their child is the right height and weight? Is there a difference for boys and girls?
To gauge if your child is of the right size, a starting point is to check the growth charts published by the Health Promotion Board. As long as a child stays within the growth curve, he/she is fine. But if the weight drops too much or is off the charts, it is advised to seek professional help.
A healthy range is for a child to grow four to six centimetres a year. You can monitor this growth at home. Or in some preschools, the teachers track height growth once every quarter and do close monitoring of a child’s eating habits.
Generally, there is not much of a difference in growth rate between boys and girls until puberty starts at around the age of 10. Children usually remain in the same growth percentile over the years which is an indication of normal individual growth rate.
What factors determine height and weight in a child?
Height growth is determined by genetic potential and weight gain is highly correlated to lifestyle patterns. The body mass index (BMI) is a good indicator to assess growth over a period of time.
If a child is underweight, what can parents do?
If a child’s weight is found to be below the normal range, parents may bring your child to the paediatrician/family GP and dietician for professional consultation on ways to improve weight gain.
You’ll be advised on a plan that incorporates food and perhaps exercise to help your child. There are also some preschools where teachers monitor meals intake and weight gain of underweight children regularly and update parents on the child’s progress and weight improvement.
If a child is overweight, what can parents do?
The first step is to observe if the child is overeating and to ascertain the reason. Some possible reasons include:
- Too much hunger: Erratic mealtimes can lead to build-up of hunger which leading to food-seeking behaviour and overeating.
- Emotions management: When a child is soothed with food, he/she over time learns to comfort him/herself with food as a comfort mechanism.
- Overly restricted food environment: Children whose food choices are tightly controlled tend to develop food-seeking behaviour and overeat when the adults are not around to monitor.
A tip is to give a small portion for the first serving and when a child asks for more, top up with more food, but only once. Monitor the overall food intake to prevent overeating.
Make sure your child’s preschool is also aware of your child’s needs. For example, at Kinderland, their in-house nutritionists plan the menu in a strict manner to ensure that children get the necessary nutrients daily. They make it a conscious effort to keep the portion provided for each child within the national recommended serving size.
If a child is too short for their age, should parents be worried? How can they help their child grow taller (if this is possible)?
First of all, it is important to first find out the root cause. Given that height growth is influenced by various factors including genetics and nutrition, it is not accurate to peg a child’s growth by comparing him/her with peers of the same age.
Parents are encouraged to track a child’s growth once every quarter and monitor his/her eating habits closely. A healthy range is for a child to grow 4cm to 6cm a year.
A child diagnosed with growth hormones deficiency can be treated with artificial human growth hormones administered by medical professionals. However, growth hormones therapy is highly controversial as it does not work for everyone.
In addition to the high cost, growth hormones therapy come with short-term side effects including water retention, leg swelling and headaches. It can also increase the risks of scoliosis and diabetes.
Are vitamin supplements for kids formulated to increase weight and height, safe? Are they effective?
Currently, vitamin supplements are not subjected to pre-market approval by the Health Sciences Authority (Singapore). It is best to buy supplements from authorised distributors who comply with the guidelines for health supplements set out by the authority.
Vitamin supplements are not necessary for children who gets a balanced diet on a day-to-day basis. For children who are picky eaters, severe allergy or on a special diet such as vegetarian diet may need vitamins supplements to supply adequate daily required nutrient intake to supplement their restricted diet.
When taking vitamin supplements, it is key to adhere to the recommended dosage to prevent overdose as different vitamins have different toxicity levels.
Ultimately, foods are the best source of nutrients. A balanced diet with a variety of fresh, wholesome and unprocessed food consist of all essential food groups: whole grains, lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, which can provide all the required nutrients for children. Good eating habits in children from young.
How can kids reach their optimum height and a good weight in a safe, natural way?
Here are three simple tips to boost your child’s growth naturally:
- Sleep: Adequate sleep is needed for the growth hormones to develop and recharge. As a rule of thumb, children between the age of three to five should clock 11 to 13 hours of sleep. Children between the age of five to ten will require 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night.
- Nutrition: Getting the right nutrition can maximise your child’s ability to grow. A well-balanced diet includes a sufficient amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. These can be obtained through meat, fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise: Physical activities contribute to a child’s growth and development. Sports and exercises stimulate muscle development and stronger bones whilst fighting obesity.
- Start the day right with breakfast: It is important to form the habit of eating a good breakfast from a young age.
- Healthy snacks: It is inevitable that children may feel like nibbling at some point in time. To prevent them from snacking on foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients, parents can opt for healthier options such as baked nuts and unsweetened yogurt.
- Drinking more water: Sugar drinks should be kept to a minimum. Parents should help their child to form a habit of making water the drink of choice and this is easier to accomplish from a young age.
- Eating slowly: A child takes an average of 20 minutes for them to feel full. During this time, they need to learn to slow down and chew their food properly. Eating slowly is a good tip to control weight.
Any closing remarks, especially related to Singaporean kids and parents?
It is important for adults to know how to assess a child’s growth so that we can detect obesity or undernutrition earlier. Additionally, we also need to be cognisant that genetics play a role in a child’s physique.
Most importantly, more attention should be given to the proper food intake (nutrition) and good lifestyle habits (physically active and adequate sleep) of children. A combination of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle will help our children to grow better and healthier.
Also read: 4 Exercises to help your child grow tall