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Considerable increase in appetite is normal in young children and adolescents due to early childhood development and/or following periods of extended physical activity. If, however, your child is always hungry or eats too little, for whatever reason, then probably something is wrong and you may want to resolve the matter right away.
Children need to eat correctly to meet the required development milestones and to avoid binge eating and picky eating disorders. Binge eating can lead to obesity, heart complications, high cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis, and low self-esteem. On the other hand, picky eating disorder can lead to nutritional deficits, stunted growth, and multiple health complications.
Below are Reasons Your Child is Always Hungry
Interestingly, the solutions to hunger problems are always around the corner, if only we pay attention – unless of course, they happen due to extreme medical conditions such as Prader-Willi syndrome, stress, bulimia, and of course, financial constraints.
Here is why your child is always hungry:
1. Junk diet & bedtime snacks!
SNACKING too much junk is what kids crave and surprisingly what parents condone for convenience. Junk food is easy to prepare, is served TASTY, and also ready to eat the minute it is ordered over the counter.
Also called lazy food, junk comes in various forms:
Crackers, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, crunchies, bread, fries, ice-cream, sweetened drinks, etc.
The snacks listed above contain lots of sugar, salt, trans-fat, but no tangible nutrients. They are all ‘full’ of empty calories and act as quick fixes to fend off hunger. Upon eating junk, the sugar levels in the body will spike, causing the hormone called insulin to be released into the blood-stream.
The hormone will stimulate body cells, muscles, and fats to absorb the glucose, which are then converted into short-lasting energy for the body to use.
Excess consumption of simple sugars will stimulate insulin to trigger hunger signals every other hour! This will leave the child feeling hungry soon after. It takes anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours to feel hungry again!
What You Can Do
Kids need nutrient-rich meals containing proteins, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and essential fatty acids. These are found in lean meats, nuts, fruits, seeds, vegetables, and low-fat milk.
Healthy protein-rich foods such as eggs, beans, fish, lean meats, yogurt, will lower ghrelin levels and minimize the likelihood of insulin kicking in.
Food types rich in fiber such as vegetables and fruits easily will also fill up the stomach and take longer to digest and burn out.
Make a point to serve the highlighted healthy meals for breakfast, instead of the white bread served in many homes. These will keep the tummy full for extended hours, and because they contain minimal sugar content, will not trigger high sugar-level alerts.
Note: Check excess computer use by children to minimize related excesses such as snacking, junk craving, and fast chewing.
2. Your child is always hungry due to growth spurts
If your child is doing everything right – sleeps well, is physically active and eats much, sometimes, chances are, he or she is experiencing timely development milestones. This should not surprise you and therefore not a problem.
The most notable milestone in children is the growth spurt which happens from the first month through to teen years. These spurts come and go and can last a period of 3 days or a week at any given time.
Every time your child eats well (much) and sleeps well – in fact, sleeps longer, growth spurts will happen more frequently. This biological demand will seek additional energy from the body. A child will thus develop an insatiable appetite most of the time.
With the increasing nutrition needs associated with growth, your child will likely experience a surge of hunger before and during growth spurts, which can last an average of 24 to 36 months. Make sure that these additional calories are coming from whole, nutritionally dense foods rather than snacks and sweets.Abbott
You should only become worried when other important milestones are missed, the child is obese, or the appetite is a daily thing and beyond normal.
What You Can Do
Never worry as long as your child is,
- Experiencing growth spurts
- Eating nutritious food
- Not obese
- Showing no health problems
3. Hunger due to physical exertion
A child that is physically active with extreme levels of energy exertion will most likely have the urge to eat every now and then. Every time children are involved in extensive physical activities, they burn down the glucose levels in the body fast. Soon, hunger signals (ghrelin) will kick in, demanding for more glucose. Of course, this is fine most of the time, unless it is accompanied by obesity!
Usually, parents tend to shove snacks and sweetened beverages in the direction of children to counter these hunger spikes. As mentioned above, these food types only last a short while, and will leave children feeling hungry every other 30 minutes or so!
It is also important to remember that physical activity can sometimes suppress appetite. Studies have shown exercise to kill appetite soon after indulging in lengthy physical activity. The appetite will definitely kick in moments or hours later. This is ongoing research but it should not derail your parental input in ensuring physical activity is countered with nutritious meals.
What You Can Do
Ensure your disinterested child eats something after exhausting activity to help aid in muscle and other body part recovery.
4. Poor eating habits & routines!
A child who eats insufficient, unplanned, and bad diet easily develop the compulsive disorder and therefore experience repeated hunger spells during the day. He will need frequent ‘treats’ to fill up the empty tummy.
Irregular eating habits are reflected in,
- lack of eating routines
- not involving children in choosing food types and cooking
- lack of a balanced diet
- meal-time distractions from electronic devices
When children fail to follow eating schedules, which outline when to eat and not, they easily develop an irregular appetite or lack of it. Unplanned snacking, tech distractions, and insufficient nutrient-rich foods will most definitely leave your child always hungry.
This is not uncommon with the modern child and lifestyle where busy parents defer responsibility and are unwilling to take stock of the eating habits of children. On their own, even in the hands of caregivers and close relations, children will gain the upper-hand by choosing what to and not to eat.
What You Can Do
Parents should be role models by putting in place correct eating schedules, and watch what meals grace the dinner table. Meals should be consumed on a timely basis, and everyone should abide by the schedule.
While this may not be possible all the time, they should be tried out during breakfast and dinner, when the majority of the parents are usually at home.
- Eat together
- Shop together for varieties of nutrient-rich foods
- Avoid unrelated discussions during mealtimes
- Do not use tech devices, TVs, computers, etc, during meal times
5. Depression, anxiety and stress
Research shows that the state of mind is known to interfere with eating patterns. This is related to the hormone called serotonin, which is only released when the state of mind is good, and at peace. For many, the feeling of sadness will make them turn to foods as a short-term solution.
Research has shown that eating releases serotonin, the “Feel Good” hormone. Some people may turn to food when they’re feeling a bit blue or when things aren’t working out as planned.Eating When You Are Sad
Much as depression affects the elderly, most of the time, children too can be victims if exposed to extreme depressing conditions evident in poor homes, bad parenting, war, and poverty.
6. Worms in the gut!
Yes, the presence of worms in the intestines will most likely leave your child feeling always hungry. Pinworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, and hookworms, are common types of worms, and are usually harmless but may point to multiple illnesses or some eating disorder.
A persistent and parasitic worm such as the tapeworm will eat up the nutrients in the intestines, which are critical for body growth, repair, and development. The body will, therefore, find itself gasping for nutrients that are constantly going to waste!
Here are signs your child may have worms:
- Loss of weight in spite of good feeding
- Itchy bottoms
- Constipation even when she is taking enough water and fiber-rich foods
- Fatigue and nausea
- Worms in stool
- Stomach pain
- Pale eyes and skin
- Unexplained diarrhea
- Of course, the body always feeling hungry
What You Can Do
Ensure children wash hands, eat sufficiently-cooked food types, and are not showing common symptoms mentioned above. Of course, the symptoms could also point to other infections.
Here are common over the counter prescriptions to treat worms:
Nitazoxanide (Alinia)Tapeworm infection
7. If your child is overweight and always hungry
Childhood and adolescent obesity is a global problem and always urgent attention in many homes. In the US alone, obesity affects up to 13 million children and adolescents. It is common today because of the prevalent sedentary lifestyle and behavioral changes adopted by the 21st-century families.
Many children today are busy sitting before the computer and restricted from going outdoors. They are then served a combination of junk and sugary foods high in calories!
Of course, obesity is also inherited through family lineage, but still, the necessary steps should be taken by concerned families to counter extreme medical conditions that may arise.
What is childhood obesity?
According to WHO, obesity is explained as
abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A crude population measure of obesity is the body mass index (BMI), a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height (in metres). A person with a BMI of 30 or more is generally considered obese. A person with a BMI equal to or more than 25 is considered overweight.
But not all children who have higher body mass are actually obese. Some have larger than average body frames and may also appear taller than average, which is okay. If however, the body mass in your child is accompanied by excessive eating, and many times less physical activity, then it is time to see your doctor.
If unchecked, obesity can lead to diabetes, heart diseases, asthma, sleep disorders, liver damage, a disposition to bone fractures, and of course, increased hunger spikes throughout the day.
The mechanism of hunger-related hormones in obese children is still a complex one to understand. It all rotates around how the leptin hormone works. The hormone which is released by fat cells reminds the brain of the need to eat when the fat level goes down, and the need not to when the fat level is high.
While the hormone is designed to signal hunger bells only when the fat levels are low in lean persons, leptin gets totally confused when it comes to obese children.
In what is known as leptin resistance, the hormone goes silent instead of sending the signals to restrain appetite. This leaves the brain with no option but to induce appetite signals in obese individuals!
What You Can Do
Work closely with your family doctor or a pediatrician to sort out this problem. He or she will assess the history of growth and development in your child and the family weight factors, to determine cause and treatment if necessary.
8. Extended medical conditions
Besides medical disorders associated with obesity, other medical conditions could be the reason your child is always hungry. Some of these could be a genetic predisposition or inducement caused by dependence on treatment, or over the counter prescriptions.
If your child is experiencing extreme hunger spells, he/she could be suffering from one of the following:
- Type I and II diabetes
- Low blood sugar because of kidney disorder and hepatitis
- Over the counter prescriptions for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression
- Enlarged thyroid gland or hyperthyroidism
- Hyperphagia, a genetic condition called Prader Willi syndrome
- Sensory processing disorder
- Bulimia nervosa eating disorder
What You Can Do
Work closely with the family doctor or a pediatrician if your child is always hungry because of the medical conditions listed above. Avoid treating your child at home, in the event of health complications you do not understand.
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