A hungry child is a growing child. How can you ensure that appetite-changes don’t lead to obesity?

As kids grow and their bodies start to change, it can lead to increased appetites and changes in metabolism. But how can you make sure these changes don't lead to unhealthy long-term habits?

By Dr. Ayala Wegman




about the doc

Ayala Wegman is a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.  She has two young boys and deeply enjoys caring for her community at NYU-Langone Global Pediatrics on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where she resides. We are proud to introduce Ayala as our All About The Mom resident pediatrician. You will find her advice in our Ask a Doc section.

My 10-year-old daughter is hungry all the time and definitely growing. She can eat anything in the house and never seems to gain any fat. At what point do the calories she consumes become an issue that can lead to obesity?

I never recommend counting calories at this age because it is an overly aggressive approach that may lead to obsessions with daily intake.

All too often, I have seen teens riddled with guilt if they deviate from their caloric recommendations and this may lead to unhealthy behaviors such as binging, purging, or restriction.

Food consumption should ideally be balanced and enjoyable.  Meals should make children feel fueled and give them the energy they need to focus on learning and play.  When we fixate on calorie counting we take away from thinking about our nutritional needs at the macro level. For example, there are many calorie-rich foods that are healthy and that contain proteins and essential omega-3 fatty acids  necessary for brain development.

As children enter puberty, their metabolisms, body shape, and weight all evolve. We expect these changes to occur as a normal pathway to maturity. I recommend following annually with your pediatrician to track your child’s growth.  Their body mass index, or BMI is just one data point in a set of other metrics that your pediatrician uses to offer recommendations on nutrition and health.

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