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Last Updated: September 24, 2020
A considerable increase in appetite is normal in young children due to early childhood development and extended periods of physical activity. However, extreme appetite and poor appetite are reasons enough for any parent to get worried. If 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.
Correct eating habit is necessary for children 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 can lead to nutritional deficits, stunted growth, and multiple other medical complications.
Here are the 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 financial encumbrances. All extreme medical conditions should be sorted out fast enough.
Here is why your child is always hungry:
1. Your child is overweight
Childhood obesity affects up to 13 million children and adolescents in the US alone. It is a global problem and has become even more of a crisis due to lifestyle and behavioral changes in the 21st century. Technology and urbanization happen to be the lead reasons for these changes and together, have forced children to adopt a defective sedentary lifestyle.
A sedentary lifestyle is a precursor to all kinds of ill health and medical complications such as obesity.
What is childhood obesity?
WHO explains obesity as follows:
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.
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. Leptin is released by fat cells to remind the brain of the need to eat when the fat levels go down, or not when the fat levels are high.
On the contrary, leptin is usually confused in obese children.
In what is known as leptin resistance the hormone fails to send the right signals to the brain to restrain appetite which leaves your child asking for more food.
But not all children who have bigger body mass are obese. Some kids may appear larger and taller than average, which is okay. If however, the body mass is accompanied by excessive eating, and many times less physical activity, then probably it is time to see your doctor.
What You Can Do
Always work closely with your family doctor or a pediatrician when you suspect your toddler or grown-up child is overweight. He or she will assess the history of growth and development in your child and the weight history in the family, to determine cause and treatment.
2. Your child is depressed & anxious
As much as we love associating depression with adults, children too fall victim to depressive moments.
Research has shown that the state of mind can interfere with eating patterns even in the very young. This happens thanks to a ‘happy chemical’ hormone called serotonin. Serotonin controls the state of appetite in the guts and is released when the state of mind is peaceful.
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
Serotonin may not be released during sad moments and therefore fail to regulate appetite.
What You Can Do
Of course, it is a complex matter addressing depression and anxiety in the context of parenting gone wrong, and the inability of the parties involved to initiate change. The decision lies in the hands of parents, caregivers, and close family, while the effects in children can last a lifetime.
Increased consumption of food under depressive circumstances will leave your child overweight and prone to other medical complications.
3. Your child has 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 other 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:
- Praziquantel (Biltricide)
- Albendazole (Albenza)
- Nitazoxanide (Alinia)
4. Your child has serious medical conditions
Your child who is experiencing extreme hunger spells could be suffering from one of the following medical conditions:
- Type I and II diabetes
- Low blood sugar because of kidney disorder and hepatitis
- Enlarged thyroid gland or hyperthyroidism
- Hyperphagia, a genetic condition called Prader Willi syndrome
- Sensory processing disorder
- Bulimia nervosa eating disorder
Besides the disorders mentioned above, other more conditions could be the reason your child is always hungry:
What You Can Do
If your child is always hungry because of any or all of the medical conditions mentioned above work closely with your family doctor or a pediatrician. Avoid treating your child at home, in the event of complications you do not understand. A medical personnel will walk you the relevant procedures to get your child treated.
5. Your child is going through 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
What You Can Do
Never worry as long as your child is,
- experiencing growth spurts
- eating nutritious food
- not overweight
- showing no health problems
6. Your child is hungry 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.
7. Your child is always hungry due to poor eating 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 routines and watch what meals grace the dinner table. It is also important that families try to eat together as many times. While this may not be possible all the time, it should be tried out in the morning (breakfast) and evening (dinner).
- 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
8. You serve junk food & bedtime snacks!
SNACKING too much junk is what kids crave and surprisingly what parents condone for convenience. Junk food is tasty, easy to prepare, and ready to eat the minute it is served over the counter.
Also called lazy food, junk comes in various popular 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. The sugar levels in the body will always spike upon consuming junk. This facilitates the release of a hormone called insulin into the blood-stream.
Insulin will stimulate body cells, muscles, and fats to absorb glucose. These 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 every other 30 minutes to 2 hours!
What You Can Do
Children need nutrient-rich meals full of proteins, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and essential fatty acids. These are available in lean meat, 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.
Endeavor to serve these meals for breakfast, and cut down on the popular white bread that is served in many homes. These will stay in the tummy 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 excesses such as snacking.