Loss of appetite is not feeling hungry or having a desire to eat. Your child may experience a loss or decrease in appetite during times of slower growth or for a variety of other reasons. Most of the time, an occasional loss of appetite is nothing to worry about. If your child appears to be losing weight or talking about wanting to be thinner, seek medical care for your child. These can be signs of a physical illness, or anorexia, a condition that often requires both physical treatment and counseling to resolve. Parents can try several approaches to help their child regain his appetite.
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The reasons for your child's loss of appetite may vary, but asking her what she wants to eat--making sure she includes some healthy choices in her list--and encouraging her to help you prepare meals and snacks may help her feel like eating more, according to the United Kingdom's Great Ormand Street Hospital. Young children in the toddler age group may not eat much if they are distracted during meal times, but even children at this age can pique an interest in cooking and are likely to eat more if they made their meal or snack "all by themselves."
Asking your older child for input can be beneficial if you don't realize that she's not eating because she doesn't like a particular fruit or vegetable you habitually serve, for example. Discussing the nutritional requirements for your child and looking at charts to determine alternative ways to get certain vitamins may put a spark back into your child at mealtime.
Schedule a Checkup
Treatment for a decreased appetite may mean treating an underlying illness that is causing your child to not care about eating. Great Ormand Street Hospital says that a range of illnesses, from depression to mononucleosis, intestinal parasites or anemia are all possible causes for a lack of appetite or excessive fatigue that takes away your desire to eat. Blood testing and a physical exam can diagnose many medical conditions that may lead to a decreased appetite. Frank discussions between your child and his medical-care provider about his state of mind can help you find appropriate treatment options for depression, which may lead to an increase in appetite in time.
Adjust Meal Schedules
Serving your child several small snack-like meals throughout the day may help increase appetite, according to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can cause your child to feel nauseated and unable to eat. Doing away with the traditional three large meals each day might help your child eat a little more. The smaller meals are lighter on the stomach, and some of the pressure of eating is removed. This approach may be helpful to children who experience a loss of appetite for reasons other than cancer as well.
Encourage Physical Activity
Encourage your child to go outside and play, in the hopes that the fresh air and physical activity will jump-start his appetite. The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship says that being active can help a sick child regain his desire to eat. Your child does not have to play a full soccer game or run a marathon to experience the correlation between exercise and appetite, and if he suffers from a specific medical condition, his strength may be limited. Walks and light exercise may be enough to inspire him to eat a little more during his next meal.
Loss of appetite can be a side effect of ADHD medications, according to ADDitude Magazine. The stimulant drugs used to control symptoms also send signals to your child's brain, telling him that he's full and doesn't need to eat. Most often, a decreased appetite is a minor issue and does not interfere with maintaining a healthy weight, but in some cases, the symptoms can be more severe. Parents who suspect their child's appetite problems are related to their medications should confer with their child's doctor. Adjusting medications to a lower dosage, under the supervision of a physician, may treat loss of appetite and still manage behaviors consistent with ADHD.