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4 Reasons Why Your Child Is Underweight

Malnourished children may appear very thin, with loss of fat over the cheeks, arms, buttocks; may appear dull and less active compared to healthy children, said a doctor.

Written by Prerna Mittra | Updated : November 26, 2023 8:01 PM IST

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Underweight

It can be quite heartbreaking for parents to realise that their child is underweight, and that their growth is not in tandem with their age. The word 'underweight' is often used to describe children who appear 'thinly built', says Dr Namratha Upadhya, pediatric endocrinologist, Aster RV Hospital. "In practice, a child is considered to be underweight if their body mass index (BMI) is less than the 5th percentile for age and sex, when plotted on a BMI chart," she explains. There could be several reasons why a child is underweight. Read on.

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Malnutrition

According to the doctor, inadequate calories due to poor quality of diet, lack of awareness about healthy eating or any disease causing poor dietary intake or absorption of nutrients, or increased demand for nutrients can result in the child becoming underweight. "Malnourished children may appear very thin, with loss of fat over the cheeks, arms, buttocks; may appear dull and less active compared to healthy children. They may have symptoms or signs of an underlying disease such as difficulty in feeding, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, protruding belly, a chronic cough, wheezing, a hormonal disorder affecting thyroid or adrenal glands, diabetes or a neurological disorder causing difficulties in swallowing, chewing, etc." Also Read - Expert's Insights Into Lung Cancer: Prevention Strategies And Innovative Treatments

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Prenatal Causes

The doctor adds that children born with a very low birth weight, either because of prematurity or impaired growth during pregnancy due to maternal disorders can also be underweight. "Such children, in the absence of any other serious illness, catch up in their weight and height usually by 2 years of age. Some children may also have any underlying genetic condition affecting their growth potential."

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Management

Any child who appears to be malnourished, has poor growth compared with other children of their age, has a chronic disease, often falls sick or is born prematurely should be evaluated by a specialist. "Treating underweight children depends on the cause. If related to nutrition, your pediatrician will advise regarding how to improve your child’s diet and address issues relating to feeding. If there is suspicion of any underlying disease, your doctor may advise some tests and suggest appropriate treatment."