Definition and Overview
A child nutrition health checkup refers to regular visits to a pediatrician or a child nutrition specialist to ensure a child’s proper nutrition. These checkups are recommended for all kids regardless of age, and are similar to regular pediatric checkups but focus on the child’s eating habits and nutrition. Taking a child to these appointments at least once a year will help make sure that he or she is receiving full nutrition at his age. It also helps doctors to identify and manage any nutritional deficiencies before they put the child’s health at risk.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
A child nutrition health checkup is recommended for all children, from infants to adolescents, who will later on transition to adult checkups. Since a child’s nutritional requirements change each year as he grows older, it is best to seek a nutrition checkup once a year. These visits may be arranged with the child’s primary care provider or pediatrician.
The goals of a child nutrition checkup are as follows:
- To check whether the child meets his nutritional requirements
- To check whether the child is in good physical health
- To check for early warning signs of health problems so that they are addressed at an early stage
To help parents create a healthy diet plan for their children.
However, whether or not they have an appointment, parents are also advised to seek medical advice if they notice any problems with their child’s eating habits and suspect any nutritional deficiencies and weight-related problems. The pediatrician or pediatric nutrition specialist will watch out for signs of weight-related problems, such as:
Malnutrition – A child is malnourished if he lacks proper nutrition. It can be caused by a lack of food or either not eating enough of healthy, nutritious foods or eating too many unhealthy foods.
Obesity – A child is overweight or obese if he weighs a lot more than he is supposed to at his age. This is different from being big-boned and is mostly associated with being overly fat.
Parents usually seek a child nutrition health checkup when they observe the following symptoms:
Poor weight gain
- Sudden or dramatic weight gain/loss
- Failure to grow at the normal expected rate (in both height and weight), given the child’s age
- Behavioral changes, such as being sluggish or irritable
- Changes in skin color
- Abnormal or disproportional body mass index
There are also some risk factors that raise the possibility of a child developing a weight-related disease. For example, the risk factors of childhood obesity include:
- Limited social activities
- Existing diseases
- Pediatric medications
- Emotional stress
On the other hand, malnutrition is linked to the following risk factors:
- Poverty resulting in lack of food
- High-calorie diet
- Conditions affecting the teeth, mouth, or a child’s ability to swallow
- Being a picky eater
- Existing illness
- Eating disorders
- Digestive illness or malabsorption syndrome
Children who meet the above risk factors should be taken to child nutrition health checkups more often and may need continuous medical treatment and supervision for as long as necessary.
How Does the Procedure Work
It is common for pediatricians to begin the checkup with a physical examination, which involves:
- Checking the child’s weight, height and body mass index
- Blood pressure testing, which is done starting at age 3
- Vision screening
- Eye exam
- Teeth exam
- Listening to the heart and lungs
The physical exam will help the doctor detect any physical problems or growth deficiencies.
After this, the doctor will ask the parent about the child’s eating habits to assess whether the child is receiving an adequate and balanced amount of nutrients. Children’s nutritional requirements tend to change as they grow older, which explains the need for annual checkups. For example, by age 3, a child’s diet should consist mostly of solid foods. By ages 4 and 5, he should start having a balanced diet consisting of three meals per day as well as two nutritious snacks. As the child becomes more active, he will also have greater nutritional needs. If the parent is encountering some problems feeding a child, such as when the child is a picky eater, the pediatrician may provide some advice on how to encourage kids to eat more and what best to feed them to make sure they receive their full nutritional requirements.
Generally, child nutrition specialists advise parents to feed their child with a balanced amount of fruits and vegetables, healthy protein sources and fiber-rich foods. These should be broiled, grilled, or steamed rather than fried. Parents will also be informed about what to limit, such as fast food, junk food, sodas and sugary drinks. If there are any nutritional deficiencies or signs of it, the nutrition specialist may prescribe some nutritional supplements, such as vitamins and minerals.
If the pediatrician detects anything unusual, he may order some additional testing, but these are usually performed on a different day by different practitioners.
If a child is diagnosed to be either malnourished or obese, the physician will recommend a treatment plan.
Possible Risks and Complications
A child nutrition health checkup is a routine nutrition check that involves only a physical exam and consultation. Thus, it is 100% safe and poses no risk to a child. It also helps a parent protect a child from the health risks and possible complications of nutritional deficiency and weight-related diseases, especially malnutrition and obesity.
Malnutrition puts the child at risk of the following:
- Reduced body mass
- Decreased stamina and energy
- Breathing difficulties
- Chest infection
- Respiratory failure
- Compromised immune response
- Delayed wound healing
Susceptibility to all kinds of illnesses
Obesity, on the other hand, raises a child’s susceptibility to serious chronic diseases that may affect him for life. These include:
Coronary heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Obesity hypoventilation syndrome, a breathing problem wherein the patient has too little oxygen and too much carbon dioxide in the blood
A child’s nutrition is very important, as it can impact the state of his health as an adult. A child nutrition health checkup can help ensure that the child receives balanced nutrition and stays healthy.
Hagan JF, Duncan PM. Maximizing children's health. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 5.