A child's growth and development can be divided into four periods:
Middle childhood years
Immediately after birth, an infant normally loses about 5 - 10% of his or her birth weight. However, by about age 2 weeks, an infant should start to gain weight and grow quickly.
By age 4 - 6 months, an infant's weight should be double the birth weight. During the second half of the first year of life, growth is not as rapid. Between ages 1 and 2, a toddler will gain only about 5 pounds. Weight gain will remain at about 5 pounds per year between ages 2 - 5.
Between ages 2 - 10 years, a child will continue to grow at a steady pace. A final growth spurt begins at the start of puberty, sometime between ages 9 and 15.
The child's nutrient needs correspond with these changes in growth rates. An infant needs more calories in relation to size than a preschooler or school-age child needs. Nutrient needs increase again as a child gets close to adolescence.
A healthy child will follow an individual growth curve, even though the nutrient intake may be different for each child. Parents and caregivers should provide a diet with a wide variety of foods that is suited to the child's age.
Healthy eating habits should begin during infancy. This can help prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT AND DIET
Poor nutrition can cause problems with a child's intellectual development. A child with a poor diet may be tired and unable to learn at school. Also, poor nutrition can make the child more likely to get sick and miss school. Breakfast is very important. Children may feel tired and unmotivated if they do not eat a good breakfast.
There are government programs in place to make sure each child has at least one healthy, balanced meal a day. This meal is usually breakfast, because the relationship between breakfast and improved learning has been clearly shown. Programs are available in poor and underserved areas of the United States.
Talk to your health care provider if you have concerns about your child's growth and development.
Stettler N, Bhatia J, Parish A, Stallings VA. Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 42.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.