The Growing Years of Childhood
Children deserve a good start
Childhood is the time of rapid growth. A child grows in height and weight, of course, but important organs like the brain and digestive tract are also developing quickly. During these years, it is important for parents to provide everything a child needs for growth and development and to prevent adult onset diseases. Tastes and eating habits formed now will form the foundation for your child’s diet and tastes in the future.
The information in this section is intended to help parents make sure that their growing child is well prepared for the life ahead.
Children grow very quickly
Have you noticed how fast children grow out of their shoes and clothes? Infancy, early childhood and teenage years are periods of fastest growth during the life cycle. Children grow in height and weight, and their organs, including the brain, develop and mature.
During the first 5 years of life a child typically doubles in height. In the first year of life, weight triples, and by the age of 5 years, it increases five times that at birth.
Brain weight also increases rapidly during the first 5 years. These are important years for social and academic learning, and brain development is critically important to support these achievements.
How do we fuel such rapid growth?
Good nutrition supports a healthy foundation. Normal growth during childhood is regulated by several factors including nutrition, genes and hormones. It is important to remember that each child is unique and grows at his or her own pace. Good nutrition supports this growth, promoting wellness and optimal physical and mental development in a child. Good nutrition not only prevents immediate problems or deficiency diseases like anaemia, growth, faltering, etc, but also helps prevent other long-term health problems.
Childhood is a critical period in our life for nutrition. It is important for parents and caregivers to establish a healthy balanced diet and active lifestyle for their children.
Growth and development
Growth and development go hand-in-hand. Evidence of growth is visible and measurable by tracking the height and weight of the growing child's body. But growth and development of bones, muscles, internal organs and body systems is hidden from our eyes and are less easy to understand. Changes within the body, however, are just as important as the visible changes in height and weight.
Bones – Bones grow in length, density and number.
Length – The easiest way to see bone growth is to watch the increase in a child's height. Children grow taller as the bones grow longer.
Density – The bones of a newborn baby are very soft. They become harder as the child grows. A good example of this is the bones in the skull that are soft at first so the brain has room to expand. Over time, the skull bones fuse and become dense and hard to protect the brain.
Number – Infants have fewer bones than adults. For example, an adult has nine bones in the wrist, whereas, a 1-year-old child has only three.
Muscles do not increase in number, but their length and thickness increase, especially during childhood. Muscle growth is also rapid during adolescence - and this is the period when marked differences can be seen in the contrasting muscle strength of boys and girls.
Full-term babies are born with significant body fat. As the infant grows, learns to walk and then begins to run and play, 'baby fat' is replaced with muscle. That is why children seem 'thinner' as they grow.
After puberty, fat is laid down in the tissues and the 'young adult' start developing a body shape. This is more prominent in girls than in boys.
The development of body organs is critical. Different organs develop at different pace. Brain growth is almost complete by the child's fifth year, while the rest of the nervous system continues developing through adolescence. At birth, the liver and kidneys are quite immature. This affects the kind of food the infant can digest. The liver and kidneys continue growing through the years of early childhood.
Glands secrete essential hormones that govern various functions in the human body. The glands that secrete sex hormones mature and develop during later years of childhood.
Nutrition for fueling growth
As children develop from childhood through adolescence, their bodies require many different nutrients. Calcium supports the growth of bones, for example, and special nutrients such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are important to the developing brain.
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