In addition to bumps on the head, scraped knees, the sniffles and the countless other afflictions that can affect children, they also can be affected by things like food allergies, weight problems and eating disorders. While minor colds and bruises likely won’t have much of a lasting impact on their lives, these diet-related issues can have lifelong effects and consequences. For this reason, it’s important to identify these concerns in your children as early as possible in order to help them adapt and grow.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says there are several common food allergies in children. “Typically, the most common food allergies kids experience are allergies to milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and wheat,” she said. “For these allergies, you should definitely seek the help of a doctor and a dietitian in order to identify them quickly and figure out how to proceed. You will, of course, need to cut out the foods your kids are allergic to, but an expert can help you with specifics and suggest alternatives for them,” she added.
“Childhood obesity is an ongoing problem and, as many people are aware, it is on the rise,” Tillman said. “What you don’t hear as much about is kids being underweight, which also is quite common. One way to adjust your kids to either situation is to focus on their health and wellness instead of their overall body size or shape. Make sure they have plenty of opportunities for exercise and activity, and limit their screen time with television, computers and video games. Also, try putting a focus on getting enough sleep and eating healthy at mealtimes. In fact, this usually is something the whole family can benefit from,” she said. “Also, don’t hesitate to involve a doctor or dietitian as needed to manage ongoing health or wellness concerns with your kids,” she added.
When it comes to eating disorders, Tillman says parents should be on the lookout for warning signs. “Usually, rapid weight gain or weight loss, changes in eating behaviors, a newfound concern with body or appearance, loss of a menstrual period, mood swings, hair changes and a heavy focus on exercise all are indicators that your child may have an eating disorder,” she said. “For these situations, it is crucial to reach out to your child's doctor, who can help connect you with a mental health professional and/or dietitian,” she added.
But, what if your child is just a picky eater? Tillman says it may be a sign of a larger problem. “Picky eating is a normal phase that children go through, usually as toddlers,” she said. “If the child remains picky as they get older, there may be an underlying medical problem, such as reflux, esophagitis, allergies or some other sensory disorder. Try focusing on positive reinforcement of normal, healthy eating patterns, and gradually work on improving their nutrition and accumulation of new foods into their diets. You don’t want to bribe children to eat a certain food or punish them for not doing so. The best way to get them to try something new is through repeated exposure. Try to include small amounts of new foods into meals that include foods they already enjoy,” she explained. “It also can be helpful to make sure the child knows what to expect from a new food, including flavors, textures and tastes. Remember as their parent, you also have a role in their acceptance of new foods. Discuss new foods with your children, and remember to be positive. As always, you can seek the help of a professional if you don’t see improvement in their pickiness over time,” she added.