If your little girl is between the ages 2-18, read on

Children's health should primarily be focused on growth, cultivating healthy habits and avoiding risky behaviour, and focus on preventive health aimed at reducing future health issues. Children's health is vitally important as it provides a unique opportunity for each child to achieve their full potential to become a healthy adult. It is important to understand that children's health needs are markedly different from an adult's and a child's response to illness, medications, and the environment depends upon the age of the child. Children are not small adults.

Unfortunately, even the healthiest of children can get sick. Common childhood illnesses such as ear aches or tonsillitis may not have a deep impact on the future health of the child and are mostly unavoidable. However, children are also susceptible to other diseases that are preventable through immunizations. Ensuring adherence to a doctor recommended immunization schedule is important. Besides physical well-being, a child’s mental health should also be included in the care spectrum. The health of the family as a whole, plays a key role in determining the health of a child, not just from the context of the child's physical health but their emotional health, as well.

As a child reaches adolescence, a critical period begins. It’s a time when rapid development of the body, brain, and behaviours happen and also the period when the right interventions can and will affect child’s health throughout life. Puberty sets in during adolescence and is usually accompanied by changes in both physical and psychosocial behaviour. Social determinants of health also play a notable role during adolescence and the presence and influence of peers and schools become stronger than that of the family.

When does puberty start?

The timing of puberty is determined by different factors – genetic factors, nutrition, health conditions, family situation, stress and socio-economic among others. Apart from puberty’s direct impact on physiology and growth, the timing of puberty also influences changes in lifelong health. Studies show that that higher BMI accelerates the onset of puberty, but early puberty also has an effect on final height of the child. Early puberty is associated with cardiovascular risk, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure in the future.

Typically girls attain menarche (start of menstruation) by age 11-12 and it could be between ages 8-16. If a girl shows early pubertal signs or there is a delay, the paediatrician should be consulted.

While Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people annually and are typically viewed as adult diseases, NCDs also have a significant impact on children and adolescents across the life-course. Childhood obesity is now an epidemic in India with approximately 14 million obese children. It is critical to reduce the burden of NCDs in children and adolescents through improved awareness on nutrition and exercise and thereby improving future health outcomes.

Adolescence is also when unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, drinking and drug use often begin. According to the WHO, tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and most adult smokers get initiated into smoking during adolescence. Alcohol consumption and access to drugs among adolescents are increasing globally and the need to educate and create awareness becomes key.

Children and adolescents model their behaviours from the adults around them. In this context, the family and immediate social factors are very important influencers on how a child eats, exercises and views use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Nutritious and balanced diets, the enthusiasm to play and exercise with peers/ friends and encouraging varied habits that balance screen time with other hobbies are vital in ensuring a healthy child and also giving them a healthy start to their adulthood.