Parents of skinny kids need information about causes and solutions for their too skinny kids, but it seems like everybody is talking about childhood obesity. The Internet is buzzing with warnings about adverse long-term effects of kids’ unhealthy diets. Well-intentioned advice for parents of overweight children is abundant. But what about too skinny kids (below the 5th percentile on the CDC growth charts for boys and girls)? What is the healthiest way for these children to obtain a healthy weight?
When this short article on How to Help Skinny Kids Gain Weight ranked among the most popular reads on our blog week after week, we quickly realized why this might be. There simply isn’t much solid, relevant information out there for parents of children who are too thin – let alone tips for helping kids reach a healthy weight in a sensible way (meaning, NOT by feeding them a Happy Meal every day).
I sat down with ZisBoomBah nutrition expert Lisa Lanzano, MS, RD to talk about possible reasons why a child might be very skinny and when to be concerned.
Reasons why your child might be very thin — examine these for keys to a healthy weight
- Genetics. If being very skinny runs in your or your spouse’s family, chances are one of you has said this before: “I looked exactly like that when I was a child!”
- Your child is very active and burns a large amount of calories throughout the day.
- Your child is a fidgeter. “If your child fidgets a lot, his body is moving all the time, expending energy,” Lisa said. He probably even burns extra calories while watching TV.
- Your child is very muscular. “More muscle mass burns more calories”, our expert reminded parents.
- Your child has a poor appetite. “Your child could also be depressed, overtired or overstressed and then the appetite goes down,” Lisa explained. “Toxic dynamics at the dinner table can be an issue too.” Talk to your pediatrician about possible reasons and to rule out a more serious cause.
- Your child is a picky eater. This reason is very similar to the one above and might be difficult to distinguish. The difference is that you have ruled out underlying medical concerns.
- Your child has an undiagnosed food allergy or sensitivity. This in itself could lead to poor appetite. “If a child’s tummy hurts every time she eats, she is not going to want to eat,” Lisa explained.
- Other medical reasons – “With celiac [gluten-intolerance], for example, a child does not absorb enough food,” Lisa said.
- Your child’s diet is unhealthy. If your kid eats too much overly processed food, his taste buds are trained to like very sugary and very salty foods. “Then nutrient-rich whole foods don’t taste as good,” Lisa said. As a result, your child is missing out on these wholesome foods that would help him maintain a good weight.
- Too much fiber in your child’s diet. “Too much fiber causes unpleasant bloating and, as a consequence, your child might not want to eat as much,” Lisa said.
- Your child is lacking vitamins or minerals. For example, according to our nutrition expert, low zinc intake is associated with decreased sense of smell and taste. Thus, your child might not be able to enjoy food as much. “Also, low iron, low folic acid (folaid) and low vitamin B12 all can reduce your child’s energy level, which eventually reduces a child’s desire to eat enough,” she said.
- Your child’s or your relationship to eating is disordered. “Some parents withhold food or certain foods from their children—intentionally or unintentionally—because they don’t like these foods themselves,” Lisa said. “Or maybe the mother is on a long-term weight loss diet and cooks with little or no oil or butter, uses only skim milk for the family, etc.” Without fat in their diet, children’s bodies can’t absorb vitamins A and D. What’s more, Lisa said, “Kids need carbs.”
[Read our related article: Picky Eating or Eating Disorder? Know the Difference and When to get Help]
Lisa had one last comment to add. She knows from experience, that parents can get concerned about how little food kids are eating. “Small amounts could be just fine. Kids don’t need to eat as much as adults, and some parents can’t judge that,” she said. This article is not about children at a healthy weight who are not big eaters, but rather addresses parents of children who weigh less than experts recommended for their height.
Check back next week for tips on how to boost every meal and snack for weight gain.
Update: When we posted this article on ZisBoomBah’s Facebook page, one reader and concerned mom of a skinny girl posed the question how you would know if a child is malnourished, even if she seems happy and active. We had a feeling that this is queite possibly the number one question of parents of skinny kids, so we asked one of our nutrition experts, and turned her answer into this blog post: “Skinny Kids: How do you know your child is malnourished“
Are you the parent of a skinny child? Do you find your child described under any of the reasons above? Please share your experience in the comment section below.
There is help for parents with skinny kids. Pinpointing the causes and determining the solutions that work well for your own child is the best way for parents to help skinny kids get to a healthy weight.