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With childhood obesity such a widespread problem in the United States, most parents are worried about keeping their children from packing on the pounds. But having an underweight child is just as much a problem as having an overweight child.
Some underweight kids are just fine. But for others, being underweight can signal health issues like infection, allergies, or a host of problems with the endocrine, cardiovascular, or respiratory systems.
A girl who’s too skinny can suffer from a condition known as “failure to thrive" if she has a weight that’s below the 3rd or 5th percentile for her age combined with a declining growth rate. In other words, if your child isn’t growing at a healthy rate, there might be an underlying health problem.
A pediatrician can diagnose failure to thrive by running a series of tests to determine why your child isn’t growing quickly enough. The tests include a detailed nutritional history to document what your child eats, a physical exam, and an examination of growth records. Further testing may be required, depending on what the pediatrician finds.
Even if your pediatrician finds that your child does not suffer from failure to thrive, he may still advise that she gain weight.
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How a girl too skinny can gain weight fast
So how can a girl too skinny gain weight fast? If there isn’t a serious health problem causing the slow weight gain, a pediatrician will likely recommend nutritional therapy. Working with a team that includes a nutritionist and maybe a specialist, the pediatrician will design a diet that helps you feed your child higher calorie foods.
When a child who’s too skinny needs to put on weight, doctors advise feeding foods that are high in protein and are nutritious. Pushing junk food is not recommended.
It’s important to keep in mind that “fast" is relative. Gaining weight too fast puts stress on the body. Only a doctor can determine how quickly your child needs to gain weight.
Underweight children who aren’t growing properly due to a medical condition—physical or psychological—may require hospitalization or outpatient nutritional therapy. Sick kids who aren’t getting the nutrition they need are sometimes put on IV drips or get feeding tubes.
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Tips for helping underweight kids gain weight
If your pediatrician suggests at-home nutritional, use the following tips to help your child sneak in extra meals and get the most out of mealtime:
- If your child simply does not like eating or gets full after eating small portions, don’t bribe or force her to eat more. Turning mealtime into a power struggle will only make things worse.
- Only offer liquids—especially filling ones like juice—after a meal.
- Let your child feed himself as much as possible.
- Don’t let your child drink large amounts of juice, soda, or water. These beverages are filling but low in protein. Instead offer milk, formula, or Ensure—they’re higher in calories and nutrition.
Safe Weight Gain Tips for Girls
"Gaining Weight the Healthy Way" looks at safe, doctor-recommended strategies for packing on the pounds.