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Understanding Childhood Growth Spurts, Puberty & Weight Gain

As the parent of a pre-teen or teenager, you might notice that your child’s weight fluctuates frequently.  You might wonder if this is normal or worry that something is wrong.  In most cases, weight fluctuation is completely normal during childhood and can be attributed to growth spurts or puberty during the adolescent years.

Many parents say they can tell their child is about to go through a growth spurt when he or she becomes a little “pudgy.”  While no scientific evidence shows that this is true, increases in weight and height do tend to parallel each other.  A larger growth spurt is associated with a larger increase in body weight.  Additionally, excess fat helps promote growth.  This is why children who are overweight or obese also tend to be tall. 

Another thing to consider when your adolescent child’s weight is fluctuating is puberty. As a child experiences puberty, his or her body fat distribution changes. Girls develop more fatty tissue in the hips, thighs and buttocks. Because this can happen quickly, it can cause stretch marks in these areas, even in normal-weight kids. One study suggests that stretch marks can occur in as much as 70 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys.

During puberty, boys commonly experience gynecomastia, or the development of fatty breast tissue. This happens in up to 70 percent of boys and usually occurs during mid-puberty. The predominance of estrogen during puberty as compared to testosterone is said to be the cause. However, gynecomastia does tend to disappear within two years and typically does not require treatment.

While frequent changes in height and weight can make dressing your child challenging, rest assured that this is a normal part of life. As a parent, your role is to help make your child feel as comfortable as possible, even though they may feel frustrated or self-conscious. Help your child understand these physical changes and continue to encourage a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and lots of exercise and activity.  However, when weight loss or gain is extreme and sudden, talk with your child’s doctor to ensure there is no underlying condition to consider.

Hillary Lockemer, MD, is a pediatric endocrinologist with WakeMed Children’s Endocrinology & Diabetes.

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