Problems with feeding usually begin during the child’s second year, when the novelty of trying out new foods wears off, and he becomes bored with meal times. He may develop food fads and become a food refuser simply to attract attention. As long as a child is healthy, active and not losing weight, parents need not be concerned about meal-time tantrums.
A child should not be given between-meal snacks because he did not eat his proper meal and is hungry. He should not be offered alternative foods if he rejects a reasonable choice, and he should not be given extra pudding if he will not eat his first course. If he does not want his meal, it should be removed without fuss – he will eat when he is hungry. A child should not be forced to eat.
Loss of appetite can be a sign of an oncoming illness. If it is accompanied by other symptoms such as a flushed appearance,, tiredness, etc., a doctor should be consulted.
One of the major feeding problems is obesity, i.e., being 20 per cent or more over the average weight. This is the result of eating too much food, or the wrong type of foods. The reasons for obesity include:
- a diet containing too many ’empty calories’, such as sweets, biscuits, chocolate, ice-cream, or cakes.
- too many fatty foods such as chips, fried foods, or creamy cakes.
- too many snacks such as crisps, sweet drinks, ice-creams.
- developing the habit of eating more food than the body requires. Obesity tends to run in families because of this.
- lack of opportunities for exercise to burn off some of the fat.
- plump babies sometimes being regarded as attractive, so that some parents worry if they think their child is too thin.
- the introduction of solid foods at too early an age. Obesity can cause:
- slow physical development. Overweight children have more difficulty in sitting up, pulling themselves to their feet and walking.
- mechanical disorders of the hips, legs and feet.
- difficulty with activities such as running, climbing, playing games.
- psychological difficulties because of teasing from other children.
- Obesity should be prevented, or treated by adjustment to the diet of the child and keeping him actively occupied.
Stomach disorders that may occur include constipation and diarrhoea. Constipation is not uncommon. It can be corrected by giving more high fibre foods such as wholemeal bread, raw fruit and vegetables and plenty of water. Prunes or rhubarb will often produce a bowel movement. Diarrhoea is usually due to eating contaminated food, or to germs being passed from dirty hands. The child should be given only very plain foods and plenty of fluids whilst the attack lasts. If it persists he should see a doctor.
A child may be getting sufficient food, but he may still suffer from malnutrition (nutritional deficiency). This is because he is not getting a balanced diet and is being deprived of some essential nutrients. Very few children in Western countries suffer in this way, but children from families that have recently immigrated may develop a deficiency disease such as rickets, unless the family adapts to the climate and available foods of the new country.