How to help children with delayed growth? | Updated: 2023-05-26
China marked the 34th Chinese Student Nutrition Day on May 20. This year's theme is "Scientific Diet Supports Children's Healthy Growth".
A child is experiencing delayed growth if his or her height is lower than the standard reference value for his or her age and sex. This is a type of malnutrition, reflecting a long-term dietary nutritional imbalance.
According to the Report on the Nutrition and Chronic Disease Status of Chinese Residents (2020), the country saw a growth delay in 4.8 percent of children under six years old and 1.7 percent between six and 17 years old. More rural children suffer from stunted development than urban children.
Delayed growth not only reduces children's resistance to disease, but also increases the risk of obesity and cardiovascular diseases when they become adults. 
In order to improve the nutritional condition of Chinese children and adolescents, and reduce the delayed growth rate among them, in January 2023, China's National Health Commission issued the latest version of its diet and nutrition handbook for children and adolescents with delayed growth, which provides advice in terms of food selection and specific dietary regimen.
Dietary tips for children with delayed growth? 
1. Eat a variety of foods.
Adequate energy and nutrient intake is essential for children and adolescents, as they are in an important stage of growth. They should eat three or more types of foods for each meal, more than 12 types per day, and more than 25 types per week. Grains and potatoes, vegetables and fruits, meat and eggs, milk and soybeans… Pay attention to the interchangeability of similar foods, and let the varieties of foods complement each other.
2. Choose nutrient-dense foods. 
On the basis of a balanced diet, children and adolescents afflicted with delayed growth should choose nutrient-dense foods. They are supposed to appropriately increase the intake of high-quality protein by eating lean meat, aquatic products, poultry, eggs and soybeans. In addition, they’d better eat calcium-rich foods like milk and dairy products every day, supplement the right amount of foods that have vitamin D, and get plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.
3. Arrange three meals reasonably, and eat a good breakfast.
Children aged two to five should have three main meals and two extra meals a day; children and adolescents aged six to 17 should eat three meals a day, and make sure to eat a good breakfast. It's unwise to be fussy about eating or going on an excessive diet. Choose healthy snacks and drink water instead of sugary drinks.
4. Cook fresh and clean food with suitable means.
Parents and schools should provide fresh and clean food. Ingredients that are mild in nature, easy to digest, and helpful in invigorating the spleen are also good options.
Try to cook the meal by steaming, boiling and stewing rather than frying and grilling. Pay attention to the size and hardness of food for toddlers. Encourage children to try new food, guide them to be focused on eating, and create a relaxing eating environment for them.
5. Turn to TCM dietary therapy for help.
TCM dietary therapy can help prevent delayed growth. Add appropriate ingredients believed to be of medicinal value to the child's diet. Choose suitable food according to the local geographical environment, personal eating habits and current food supply.
Follow the principle of nourishing yang in spring and summer and nourishing yin in autumn and winter, and pay attention to the influence of climate on the human body.
Regular physical exercise can also increase appetite, improve digestion, strengthen bones and muscles, and promote growth and development in children and adolescents.

What else should be done to deal with delayed growth?
1. Do sports and strengthen muscles.
Children and adolescents can engage in moderately intensive activities, such as skipping, basketball and swimming, or get fit through traditional Chinese aerobics like baduanjin, wuqinxi and martial arts.
Children aged two to five are recommended to have a total of three hours of physical activity per day, including at least two hours of outdoor activities, and no less than an hour of moderate physical activity. 
Children and adolescents aged six to 17 should accumulatively engage in at least one hour of moderate – and high intensity physical activity every day. For children and adolescents with delayed growth, they should also engage in sports that help strengthen muscles and bones, such as tug-of-war or long jumping, at least three days a week.
It's better to guide them to grasp at least one sports skill, and encourage them to participate in exercise.
2. Ensure adequate and high-quality sleep.
Sleep deprivation will affect the secretion of growth hormones. It is necessary to guide children and adolescents to develop good sleeping habits, so that they can have adequate and high-quality sleep.
Children aged two to five should sleep for 10 to 13 hours a day, including a nap of one or two hours. The recommended sleep duration for children aged six to 12 is nine to twelve hours, and eight to ten hours is good for adolescents aged 13 to 17.
In addition, schools and parents should provide targeted guidance to children and adolescents by regularly measuring their height and weight, and learning about their diet, exercise, sleep and psychological conditions.