Is Your Child A Fussy Eater?
by Dr Victor Chen
Part 1 of 5
Forty-five percent of worried mothers seek doctor’s advice on the children’s eating problems. This is not surprising as studies have shown that 52 percent of toddlers are not hungry at meal times; 42 percent end meals very quickly; 35 percent are picky eaters; and 33 percent have evidence of food selectivity.
Getting your child to eat healthily amid all the temptations and increasingly competitive society even at childhood can be rather daunting. Infections with various pestilences are on the rise – JE virus, Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), bird flu (H5N1 virus), dengue – and threatening our children.
There is also increasing awareness that certain nutrients like DHA and taurine can affect the child’s mental progress and helping him to be ahead of his peers. Thus the need to give him enough omega-3 foods besides making sure he eats five portions of fruits and vegetables a day.
Food is essential for life; it provides the fuel the child needs for energy, the micronutrients to keep the body functioning; proteins for growth and to make antibodies; and brain lipids for mental and development. So a well balanced diet is crucial for a child’s growth and development and has implications for the child in the future, physically, biologically and socially.
WHAT IS AN EATING PROBLEM?
Eating problems can seriously affect a child’s growth and development. The definition of ‘eating problems’ is the inability or refusal to eat certain foods due to medical, behavioural, psychological or environmental factors.
The main types of eating problems include:
• Poor appetite
• Food refusal
• Inappropriate food for age
• Extreme of limited food choices
HOW DOES AN EATING PROBLEM AFFECT THE CHILD?
Whatever the type of problem, the underlying issue is that there is not enough of the essential nutrients being eaten to maximize the developmental potential of the child. If the child’s diet is limited and results in him missing out entire food groups, there could be health implication. Refusal to drink milk and dairy products could result in weak bones and teeth; not eating fruit and vegetables increases the risk of asthma and iron deficiency in childhood can increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers in the long term.
2. REASONS FOR FUSSY EATING
Every parent knows it is difficult to get children to eat nutritious food, whether it is a toddles who wants nothing but instant noodles or a teenager who lives on junk food and soft drinks. Children need to eat frequently to sustain their high energy levels and keep their bodies growing.
Many young children go through periods of being fussy eaters and this is a normal part of growing up. Children often want to eat certain foods at a certain time and in a certain way. Many children, especially those from 1.5-5 years of age are sometimes picky eaters. They eat what appears to an adult as a small amount of food, and yet they well, active and growing normally. The term “fussy eaters” is not used for children who are breast feeding, only toddlers and children.
Some babies are very fussy while feeding, while others tend to doze off after a few minutes of feeding. The mother is not sure whether or not he has had his fill. But no sooner does she put him in the cot that he is up again and crying for food.
It may be that while feeding he is not a comfortable position, or his nose is blocked due to secretions or being pushed against the breast. In a bottle-fed baby, the hole in the nipple may be so small that the child tires easily.
Fussy eating habits are more acquired. An anxious mother is more likely to have an anxious fussy eater. Making meal times a battleground can worsen the situation. Often there may be no obvious reason. The child’s nervous system may not have matured enough to realize when his stomach is full. Whatever the reason, it makes the mother tense, which, in turn makes feeding even more difficult. The mother gets frustrated having to feed every half an hour, and the child remains unsatisfied and irritable.
Your child should eat a more balanced diet. Start by setting a good example. If other members of your family commonly eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, you kids will learn to eat a good diet. Kids tend to copy their parents, so if you eat well, they are more likely to eat well too. Limit snacks and drinks between meals. Drinking too much liquid can lessen your child’s appetite. This will help ensure that your child is hungry enough to eat solid foods. Do not overfeed. Obesity in children is rarely recognized by parents and is a major health problem.