If your child is always hungry and eats all the time for whatever reason, then probably something is wrong with his health. Yes, extreme appetite that stretches for days, weeks and months should be reason enough for you to get worried.
Your child needs to balance his eating for positive health, good immunity and general wellbeing.
Correct eating habits will ensure the occurrence of timely development milestones, and prevent challenges such as binge eating, picky eating, and other 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 other health complications.
Here are the reasons your child is always hungry
Fortunately, most eating disorders can be sorted out with relative ease at home. This is because the challenges associated with hunger are usually related to feeding habits and parental indulgence.
And yes, they can also happen due to medical conditions such as ADHD, Prader-Willi syndrome, stress, bulimia, as well as financial limitations.
All extreme medical conditions should be sorted out immediately with the help of medical professionals.
1. Your child is overweight
I guess this is a no-brainer. Your child is more likely to crave more food when he is overweight. He will want to eat all the time to satiate the calorie demands of the body.
This is worsened by the sedentary lifestyle that overweight children usually adopt. As you should probably know, a sedentary lifestyle is a precursor to all kinds of ill health and medical complications, in addition to binge eating.
– 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.
The mechanism of hunger-related hormones in obese children is still complex to understand. Still, it is all about how the leptin hormone works.
Fat cells in the body release Leptin to remind the brain of the need to eat when the fat levels go down, or not to eat when the levels go high.
Unfortunately, leptin response is usually mixed up in obese children. In what is known as leptin resistance, the hormone fails to send the right signals to the brain to restrain appetite. This will leave your child asking for more food.
But not all children with bigger body mass are obese. Some may appear larger than average when they are actually fine. Their bodies will adjust accordingly as they age.
If, however, the body mass is accompanied by overeating, in addition to lack of physical activity, probably 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.
Childhood obesity affects up to 13 million children and adolescents in the US alone.
It is a global problem and has become more of a challenge due to lifestyle changes and the design of the workplace in the 21st century.
Technology and urbanization are the leading reasons for these changes, and together, have forced children and adults to adopt a defective sedentary lifestyle.
What you can do
Always work closely with your family doctor or pediatrician when your toddler or grown-up child is overweight, and tops it up by eating a lot.
He or she will assess your child’s timeline of growth and development, and the weight history in the family, to determine the cause and right action.
2. Your child is depressed & anxious
As much as we love to associate depression with adults, children too fall victim to depressive moments.
Research has shown how the state of mind can interfere with eating patterns even in young children. This happens thanks to a ‘happy chemical’ hormone called serotonin.
Serotonin controls the state of appetite in the gut and is released when the mind is at peace.
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
What you can do
Of course, it is a complex matter addressing depression and anxiety in a parenting context.
Eating even more food under depressive circumstances will make your child gain weight and will be prone to multiple other medical complications.
With the help of your family doctor, you can find the root cause of the depression, in order to mitigate its side effects.
3. Your child has serious medical conditions
If your child is constantly experiencing hunger, it could potentially be a result of certain medical conditions. Your child could be suffering from the following:
Excessive hunger can be a symptom of diabetes, particularly type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes can cause hunger in children due to the body’s inability to effectively utilize glucose for energy. The immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leading to a deficiency of insulin.
Here’s how this can contribute to increased hunger:
- Insulin and glucose regulation: Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels. It facilitates the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream into cells, where it is used for energy. In type 1 diabetes, insulin production is significantly reduced or absent, resulting in inadequate glucose uptake by cells.
- Inadequate glucose supply to cells: Without sufficient insulin, glucose cannot enter cells properly. As a result, the body’s cells become starved of glucose, even when there is an excess of glucose in the bloodstream. This creates a cellular energy deficit, which triggers hunger signals to prompt food intake as a means to obtain glucose.
- Increased appetite as a compensatory response: In response to low cellular glucose levels, the body may release hormones like glucagon, cortisol, and adrenaline. These hormones signal the liver to produce more glucose through a process called glycogenolysis. However, the increased release of glucagon and other counter-regulatory hormones can also stimulate hunger and lead to an increased appetite.
An overactive or enlarged thyroid gland, known as hyperthyroidism, can increase the metabolic rate, causing increased hunger as the body requires more energy.
– Malabsorption disorders:
– Worms in the gut!
Yes, the presence of worms in the intestines will likely leave your child feeling always hungry.
Typical examples of worms include pinworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, and hookworms. Much as they are usually harmless, they may point to multiple other illnesses and eating disorders.
For example, a parasitic worm known as the tapeworm will eat up critical nutrients in the intestines, and the body will continually gasp 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
Of course, these symptoms could also point to infections other than worms.
Ensure children wash their hands correctly and eat sufficiently-cooked food.
Here are common over the counter prescriptions to treat worms:
- Praziquantel (Biltricide)
- Albendazole (Albenza)
- Nitazoxanide (Alinia)
– Low blood sugar:
Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, typically occurs when there is an imbalance between the body’s glucose supply and its usage. When blood sugar drops below normal levels, the body perceives it as an energy deficit and triggers hunger signals to prompt food intake.
– Prader-Willi syndrome:
Hyperphagia, which refers to excessive or insatiable hunger, is a prominent symptom of a genetic condition called Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS). Prader-Willi syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that affects chromosome 15 and typically presents in early childhood.
Individuals with PWS have a diminished ability to regulate their appetite due to hypothalamic dysfunction. This affects the part of the brain responsible for hunger and satiety cues.
This disruption leads to an impaired sense of fullness and a constant drive to eat. This can result in an intense and persistent hunger sensation.
The excessive hunger in Prader-Willi syndrome is not related to nutritional needs but rather stems from the hypothalamic dysfunction. It is important to note that managing the eating behaviors and hunger associated with this medical condition requires a comprehensive approach. This usually involves medical supervision, specialized diets, behavioral interventions, and support from a multidisciplinary team.
Addressing the increased hunger in children with Prader-Willi syndrome is crucial to prevent overeating, obesity, and associated health complications. Close monitoring, structured meal plans, portion control, and a supportive environment can play a significant role in managing the unique challenges related to this medical condition.
Ulcers themselves do not typically cause hunger in children. However, certain symptoms associated with ulcers may indirectly affect appetite and lead to increased hunger or changes in eating patterns.
Ulcers are open sores that develop on the lining of the digestive tract. This is most commonly in the stomach (gastric ulcers) or the upper part of the small intestine (duodenal ulcers). The most common cause of ulcers is infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, or long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Symptoms of ulcers can include abdominal pain, which may worsen or improve with eating, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. In some cases, children with ulcers may experience a decrease in appetite due to pain or discomfort after eating. This can sometimes be mistaken for hunger. This is because the child may feel the need to eat more frequently to alleviate the discomfort.
While ulcers can affect appetite indirectly, excessive hunger should not be solely attributed to ulcers. If your child consistently exhibits unusual hunger or changes in appetite, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for evaluation and diagnosis. They can assess your child’s symptoms and perform any necessary tests. Then they determine the underlying cause of their hunger or appetite changes.
– Sensory Processing disorder:
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition where individuals have difficulties processing and responding to sensory information from their environment. While SPD primarily affects sensory processing, it is not directly associated with hunger in children.
However, there can be indirect connections between sensory processing difficulties and eating behaviors. For example, some children with SPD may have aversions or sensitivities to certain textures, tastes, or smells of food.
These sensory sensitivities can make it challenging for them to tolerate and consume a variety of foods. This then leads to selective eating patterns or food avoidance. In some cases, children with SPD may exhibit oral sensory seeking behaviors. They include constantly mouthing objects or seeking oral stimulation through chewing or biting.
This can give the impression of increased hunger as the child seeks sensory input through oral activities. While sensory processing difficulties can impact eating behaviors, it is important to note that hunger itself is not typically a direct symptom of SPD.
If you are concerned about your child’s eating habits or suspect they may have sensory processing difficulties affecting their eating, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. They can provide a comprehensive evaluation, and offer strategies to address sensory challenges related to eating.
– Bulimia nervosa:
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating. These are followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the misuse of laxatives or diuretics. While bulimia nervosa is associated with episodes of excessive food consumption, it is not typically caused by hunger.
In fact, hunger is often suppressed during the binge eating episodes due to the loss of control and the focus on consuming large quantities of food rapidly. After a binge episode, individuals with bulimia nervosa may experience feelings of guilt, shame, and a desire to compensate for their perceived loss of control.
The compensatory behaviors that follow, such as vomiting or excessive exercise, are attempts to counteract the consumed calories and alleviate distress, rather than satisfy hunger.
It’s important to note that bulimia nervosa is a complex mental health condition with various physical, emotional, and psychological factors contributing to its development. Hunger may not be a direct cause or symptom of bulimia nervosa, but it is important to recognize the underlying emotional and psychological factors that drive disordered eating patterns.
If you suspect your child may be struggling with an eating disorder, it is crucial to seek professional help from a healthcare provider or mental health specialist who specializes in eating disorders. They can provide a thorough evaluation, diagnosis, and appropriate treatment options for your child’s specific needs.
– Challenges with ADHD:
ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) in children does not directly cause hunger. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While ADHD itself does not typically affect hunger levels, it has some indirect connections:
- Impulsivity and poor self-regulation: Children with ADHD may struggle with impulsivity and poor self-regulation, which can affect their eating habits. They may have difficulty waiting for meals, leading to snacking or seeking immediate food gratification. This can create a pattern of irregular or impulsive eating, potentially impacting hunger cues.
- Emotional regulation and stress: ADHD can affect emotional regulation, and children with ADHD may experience higher levels of stress or difficulty managing emotions. In some cases, emotional stress can impact appetite, leading to changes in eating patterns or increased emotional eating.
It’s important to note that these indirect connections between ADHD and eating behaviors can vary among individuals. If you have concerns about your child’s eating habits or suspect that ADHD may be impacting their appetite or eating patterns, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or a pediatrician.
They can provide a comprehensive evaluation, address any specific concerns, and provide appropriate guidance or referrals for further support.
– Hormonal imbalances:
Hormonal imbalances in children can contribute to increased hunger due to the disruption of appetite-regulating hormones. Hormones play a crucial role in regulating hunger and satiety signals within the body. When there is an imbalance in these hormones, it can affect appetite control, leading to changes in hunger levels. Here are a few examples of hormonal imbalances that can cause increased hunger:
- Leptin resistance: Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells that helps regulate appetite and energy balance. It signals to the brain when the body has sufficient energy stores and promotes feelings of fullness. In cases of leptin resistance, the body does not respond adequately to the effects of leptin. This can result in decreased sensitivity to satiety signals and a persistent feeling of hunger, leading to increased appetite and overeating.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects the ovaries in females. It is associated with imbalances in hormones such as insulin, estrogen, and progesterone. Elevated insulin levels in PCOS can contribute to increased hunger and cravings, as insulin plays a role in regulating appetite. Additionally, hormonal imbalances in PCOS can disrupt normal ovulation and lead to increased production of androgens, which can also impact appetite regulation.
- Growth hormone deficiency: Growth hormone (GH) plays a crucial role in childhood growth and development. In cases of growth hormone deficiency, children may experience decreased production or impaired function of GH. Besides affecting growth, growth hormone deficiency can also impact appetite regulation. Some children with growth hormone deficiency may experience increased hunger due to disrupted hormone signaling.
Other medical conditions mentioned below could be the reason your child is continuously hungry:
What you can do
If your child is always hungry due to any or all medical conditions mentioned above, work closely with your family doctor or a pediatrician to have the illness(es) treated.
Qualified medical personnel will walk you through the relevant steps you must follow to get your child treated.
4. Your child is experiencing organ growth spurts
If your child is doing everything right – is physically active, sleeps a lot deep into the morning hours, and yes, eats much – chances are, he or she is experiencing timely growth spurts.
Growth spurts describe your child’s growth in weight and height, and an important stage in childhood development. Growth spurts take place from the first month through to the teen years. These spurts come and go, and can last from 3 days to a week at a time.
Every time your child grows an inch and sleeps well – the body will seek additional dietary nutrients and energy to work efficiently. Your child will automatically develop an insatiable desire to eat more food:
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,
- actually getting bigger in weight and height
- eating nutritious food
- is not overweight
- is not showing other health complications
5. Your child is hungry due to physical exertion
A physically active child will use high levels of energy, which will likely facilitate his urge to eat every now and then.
Every time your child is involved in physical activities, he will burn down the glucose in the body fast. Soon after, ghrelin will trigger hunger signals, demanding more glucose and stamina.
Of course, this is fine most of the time, unless the craving leads to obesity!
Usually, parents tend to shove snacks and sweetened beverages in their direction to counter these hunger spikes. As mentioned above, these food types only last a short while in the stomach, and will leave children feeling hungry every other hour or so!
It is also important to remember that physical activity sometimes suppresses appetite, according to some studies.
The appetite will definitely kick in moments or hours later when the body settles down. This is an ongoing research and should not derail your role in providing your child nutritious meals.
What you can do
Always serve your child nutritious meals to counter the energy lost during physical exercises. Ensure to add sufficient water while at it.
If your child is disinterested in food after an exercise, always have meals reserved for him, when the appetite finally kicks in.
6. Your child is always hungry due to poor eating habits!
If your child
- eats too little
- eats too much
- eats out of routine
- eats bad diet
… he is definitely a victim of poor eating habits. This means he will need random ‘treats’ to fill up the empty tummy.
Irregular eating habits are reflected in,
- lack of eating routines at home
- failure to involve children in choosing the food to buy
- failure to involve children in cooking
- lack of a balanced diet
- meal-time distractions from electronic devices
When children fail to follow eating schedules that outline when to eat and not, they can develop an irregular appetite or lack of it.
Unplanned snacking, tech distractions, and insufficient nutrient-rich foods will definitely leave children always asking for food.
This is not uncommon with the modern day lifestyle, where parents are busy at work and defer culinary and dietary responsibility to others.
On their own, even in the hands of caregivers and close relations, children will gain the upper hand by choosing what to eat and not to.
What you can do
Become a role model by putting in place correct eating habits at home. You should also closely watch what meals grace the dinner table. Where possible, eat as a family – highly recommended.
Try these at home:
- Shop together
- Cook together
- Serve varieties of nutrient-rich foods
- Eat together
- Cut out extended discussions during mealtimes
- Do not use tech devices, TVs, computers, etc, during meal times
7. 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. They are also ‘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 will facilitate the release of insulin into the bloodstream, which will stimulate body cells, muscles, and fats to absorb glucose, for short-term energy demands.
Excess consumption of simple sugars will stimulate ghrelin to trigger hunger signals every other hour!
As expected, this will leave the child feeling hungry every other hour or so!
What you can do
Children need nutrient-rich meals rich in 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 glucose levels and minimize the likelihood of insulin kicking in.
Vegetables and fruits, which are rich in fiber will fill the stomach and defer hunger cravings.
Serve these meals for breakfast and lunch, and cut down on white bread served in many homes.
Note: manage and regulate excess computer use by children to minimize snacking.
The last word: Hunger and poverty
Financial constraints play a pivotal role in perpetuating the cycle of hunger among children, leading to their persistent hunger. Insufficient financial resources severely limit a family’s ability to provide enough food for their children.
The high cost of nutritious food items often forces families to prioritize other essential needs over adequate meals, resulting in a state of constant hunger for children. Poverty restricts access to a diverse and balanced diet, impacting their overall health and development. The detrimental effects of financial constraints on children’s nutrition and well-being are undeniable.
To address this issue, it is crucial to implement comprehensive strategies that focus on poverty alleviation, improving income-generating opportunities for families, and implementing social safety nets to support those most vulnerable.
Additionally, education programs that promote financial literacy and empower families with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about budgeting and resource management can also help alleviate the impact of financial constraints on childhood hunger.