Unintentional Weight Loss in Children

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Though everyone experiences fluctuations on the scale, if your child has unexplained weight loss, it could be a sign of a serious problem. Consider the possible reasons for your child’s weight loss and work with your doctor to find the right solution for your child. Early detection can make a big difference in recovery.


When to Be Concerned

You don’t have to worry if your child loses a few pounds over time. This could simply be from a slow-down in growth or temporary changes in eating habits or activity levels. In general, your child should stay in the same weight percentile that he’s been in since his early life. Talk to your doctor, though, if your child experiences a big drop in percentile — from the 80th percentile to the 40th, for example.

Possible Causes

Unintentional weight loss may simply be a result of eating healthier and getting more exercise. If your child has recently started a gymnastics class, he might lose weight naturally. However, if there haven’t been such changes, it could be a result of an illness, like a gastrointestinal disorder, endocrine disorders, type 1 diabetes, cancer or kidney disease. Certain medicines can also cause weight loss.

Tracking the Symptoms

Keep careful notes about the foods that your child is eating and her behavior before and after eating them. Note whether she eats a full meal or simply snacks throughout the day. Look for other symptoms as well. For example, if your child frequently has a stomach ache or diarrhea after eating, it could point to a gastrointestinal disorder. If your child seems more lethargic than usual, it could point to an infection, like a fungal disease.

Eating Disorders

Though your child’s weight loss may seem unintentional to you, it may be intentional to her. A child who is suffering from an eating disorder, such as bulimia or anorexia, will hide the disease from her parents. Tween and teen girls are particularly susceptible to eating disorders, but they occur in boys as well. Signs that your child may have an eating disorder include obsession with food, constant dieting or counting calories, going to the bathroom immediately after eating and not eating in front of others. Seek professional help if you think that your child has an eating disorder.

Solutions

Finding the cause for the weight loss is the first step in finding the right solution. If it’s the result of an infection, curing the infection will usually solve the problem. Some diseases that cause weight loss, though, such as celiac disease or diabetes, will require significant changes to lifestyle and diet. For example, if your child has celiac disease, you’ll have to start preparing gluten-free foods for him to eat.

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