If your child has Crohn’s disease, he or she is not alone. Approximately 140,000 people under the age of eight are affected this disease. And unfortunately, the incidence of Crohn’s in children under 16 is increasing. In fact, teens are more likely to develop Crohn’s disease than any other age group; about sixteen out of every 100,000 teens will be diagnosed with Crohn’s. The condition also tends to be more aggressive in children, especially girls.

Children’s symptoms are similar to that of adults’: abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, weight loss, and fatigue. However, because children are still growing, these symptoms can cause nutritional deficits and impaired rate of growth. Children with Crohn’s may not grow as much, or as quickly, as their peers during adolescence. This is particularly true for boys. Poor growth may actually be a sign of the disease in a child who hasn’t already been diagnosed. Furthermore, medications that control Crohn’s may also have a negative effect on a child’s normal growth.

Crohn’s disease may also delay the onset of puberty. This can be especially tough on teens, who just want to fit in with their peers. The good news is that by the time they become adults, they’ve generally caught up in height and weight.

You are What You Eat
All children have nutritional requirements they need to sustain and promote normal growth and good health. In fact, some studies suggest that children who don’t consume the right balance of fatty acids, vegetables, and fruits may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease. Fortunately, the opposite is also true: children who consume the most vegetables, fruits, fish and dietary fiber may actually be protected.

Proper nutrition in children with Crohn’s disease is critical to prevent lowered muscle mass and bone mineral density. Although it may be difficult for kids to eat when they don’t feel well, it’s important that they do.

Here are a few general diet recommendations for parents:

  • Increase calories. Sick people often don’t eat enough. Children in particular need additional calories just to maintain normal growth and prevent malnutrition. If your child is having a flare-up, stick to a bland, but balanced, diet.

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Don’t let your child become dehydrated. Dehydration can result in further complications.

  • Increase intake of fiber. If your child has diarrhea, the fiber will help bulk up the stool. However, if your child is constipated, extra fiber may make it worse.

  • Include supplements. Folic acid, calcium, and vitamin D supplements are body building blocks and can help prevent low muscle mass and bone density.

  • Add omega-3s to the diet. Increasing the ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s fatty acids may be beneficial.

  • Use oral rehydration products. If your child is dehydrated or has diarrhea, use commercially available rehydration products.