Implications of malnourishment over time

By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The story of the severely malnourished 9-year-old Moss Bluff boy, now in foster care, sparked questions from parents about healthy weight ranges for their own children. Not meeting certain childhood weight guidelines could have a long-term effect on health into adulthood.

Whether it's the sniffles, fever or an annual assessment that brings a child to the pediatrician's office, the first matter of business is always a weigh-in.  "We look at the child's weight and height," says Dr. Yoko Broussard with the CHRISTUS Medical Group, "and then we calculate what we call their BMI, which is their Body Mass Index."

Dr. Broussard says while the growth curve for boys and girls shows a wide range of weights and heights, the BMI holds steady.  "For most kids, before they hit puberty," she says, "it's somewhere between 15 and 19 percent."

Keeping track of a child's physical development alerts a physician to sudden changes.  "If we see a child who has been growing, say somewhere along the 50 percentile growth curve," says Dr. Broussard, "and all of a sudden it drops down to the five or ten percentile growth curve, a pediatrician will usually investigate."

Jarring weight loss or failure to gain weight could be a hormonal problem, a digestive disorder, or malnutrition - which can affect much more than what meets the eye.  "If it occurs before age two, especially before age one, in which a lot of brain growth is involved," says Dr. Broussard, "it affects the child's intelligence and overall brain development."

From age two up to puberty, the list of problems related to malnutrition lengthens.  "You're going to see problems with the GI tract, the kidneys, the musculoskeletal system, also some intelligence factors," says Dr. Broussard.

Early identification of malnourishment is key to halting physical and mental damages. With medical intervention, some of these effects can be reversed, but depending on when the damage was done and how long it lasted, could mean a longer road to recovery for the malnourished child.

*To check out growth curves for boys and girls, as monitored by the CDC, click here.

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