Are your kids missing out on their last chance to grow?


Did I scare you a little bit? Perhaps. But there’s a reason why I asked you that question.


As a parent, I’ve always naively assumed that a lot of parenting woes about my child’s growth would end by the time he reached five. This was until I recently spoke to a fellow mother who said something that set some alarm bells ringing in my head. And I quote her verbatim here:

“I’m worried about my son. He’s just turned 13, but is quite tiny and I’m worried that he may not grow much more. He does have a glass of XYZ health drink daily, but I don’t think it’s helping much.”

Of course, I didn’t know what to say. My kid isn’t in that age group yet, but as a fellow parent, I couldn’t just remain silent. So I tried to alleviate her worries by telling her that he would probably experience some sort of growth spurt soon and that she should refrain from comparing her kid with others. But the truth was that I didn’t know if he would have a 2nd growth spurt and I was just merely trying to telling her what she probably wanted to hear. So, I started to do some research of my own and learnt a few things that I think may come handy for some of my fellow parents too.


Thanks to plenty of science text books (and other random information guides, the names of which shall not be revealed!) I had always known that at some point we would all go through a growth spurt. Until I became a parent though, I never realised that this spurt was actually the second one – the first being our ‘magical increase’ in weight and size during the first 12 months of our life. The one that most of us are familiar with often occurs during the teenage years. Yes, that short transitional phase of spontaneous emotional outbursts, rolling eyes and general distrust, and of course, wanting to time-travel to another decade. That weirdly confusing period when we experience a rapid increase in height, sometimes weight, achieve psychological maturity (some of us, anyway!) and cognitive developments.


While the age of onset of the 2nd growth spurt varies from person to person, there’s an important thing to realise here. This period often represents the last window of opportunity to gain optimal height and to prepare for a healthy adult life. Of course, we all knew that, didn’t we? But here’s the other thing. While a lot of parents do acknowledge the awareness of this growth spurt, what we often tend to overlook the fact that in order to facilitate good development during this period, there are certain nutritional requirements – things like proteins, calcium, Vitamin D and Iron, to be more specific.  [You can learn more about 2nd growth spurt here]


When I was teenager (seems so long back!), all I was really bothered about was trying to find the balance of not putting on weight while simultaneously satiating the enormous hunger pangs that I had. I’m not even sure if my parents knew what my protein requirements were, because they were busy, much like other parents of that generation, making sure that I did not eat too much junk food, avoided unwanted company and engaged in some form of outdoor activity. But now as a parent, I sort of realise that eating healthy doesn’t often mean just avoiding junk food. It also means knowing what your body (or in this case, your kid’s) nutritional requirements are. Inappropriate nutrition can have lasting impacts on growth, development and physical fitness of a teenager. And protein is an important part of this mix. For instance, did you know that protein requirement is DOUBLE in 8-15yrs as compared to 4-5yrs? That triggered a thought – Is the current health drink not good enough anymore?


If you’ve studied basic science (which almost all of us have), we know that proteins help in increasing muscle mass. But there’s more to it. It is also plays an integral role in promoting the hormone insulin (such as Growth Factor – 1 or IGF-1) concentration, which then aids in growth. See, I never knew this until I started researching.


Take a look at this graph, for instance (based on this report).

Between the ages of 6 – 12, both girls and boys require at least twice the level of proteins to promote adequate levels of IGF-1 in their bodies. This is what helps in longitudinal bone growth, skeletal maturation and attainment of optimal peak bone mass; in effect what could help the kids grow taller, stronger and healthier like they say in all those adverts for kids’ drinks. Seems quite achievable, right?


But here’s the ugly (and slightly sad) truth.


According to studies by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau report (India), the intake of protein was found to be low across this age group. So in effect, children aged 13 and over were falling considerably short of the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for vital nutrients like Protein, Calcium and Iron. Which means that if these levels remained consistently inadequate, kids in that age group were likely to experience a reduction in linear growth.


So the short version is, make sure that we’re giving our pre-pubescent and teenage kids enough proteins in their food during their 2nd growth spurt. But there’s a catch here too. Most of our Indian diets derive a large chunk – about 60% or more – of proteins from wheat, rice, bajra, jowar etc. However, the quality of the proteins in these cereals are often quite inferior.


A survey from by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), stated that the main sources of protein in rural and urban India were from plant sources, and these are generally not of the same quality as found in animal ones. For proteins to be ‘good’, it needs to contain all the essential amino acids. And these usually come from egg and flesh foods.


But wait! Before you outrage at my suggestions, I am not saying that everyone should turn non-vegetarian here. Milk, milk products and soy proteins also provide good quality proteins. See – there’s something for everyone, irrespective of your lifestyle choice.


I appreciate that a lot of the information that I’ve covered in this article may be reminiscent of our high-school science text books. But think of this as a public service announcement. After all, as parents we don’t want our kids missing out on their last chance to grow, do we?


This post is written in collaboration with a brand and all scientific and relevant facts were provided by them. However my opinions are unbiased, and as a parent I wanted to spread the awareness about it.

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  1. very useful information for parent

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  2. Okay Microbiology student here, and I loved biochemistry so I actually enjoyed reading all the science. Yep nerd alert! As far as the post goes, my son just refuses to eat anything right now and we have a long way to go, but I am bookmarking this and keeping for the day I need it.
    As far as I am concerned I didn’t have a growth spurt!
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  3. Reminded me of my own teenage years and hunger pangs. I packed in a lot of junk food when no one was watching 😛 But then I still do that, so let’s hope there’s a third growth spurt in my case and I grow a few inches taller 😀
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  4. Ha, you have nailed the problem on the head Sid. I get this question everytime, all I say is physical growth is a expression of gene , no matter what XYZ you give, your genes play the major role in height and hence will be expressed either early or late, but will be expressed some time. At many times it is so difficult to explain to parents why the growth is delayed, but I make one point cleat, early spurt makes the cells age faster, so if your child’s growth spurt is delayed – Be happy!
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  5. I’ve experienced the growth spurt, both with myself and my son, and now I see my neighbors also appearing to shoot up almost overnight! Years ago, we thought it was mysterious, but found out soon enough that it is about the nutrition and diet. It was comforting to know we were doing the right thing. And yes, the veg diet is definitely protein rich and fiber rich. You know I was 4 feet something when I was 15 and often mistaken to be far younger than I was. I used to hang from bars hoping I’d grow taller.
    Very informative article, Sid!
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  6. I know, Sid. I have just experienced it with the elder son who has gained inches in the last year and hopefully will continue to in the next 2-3 years. I am extra conscious about his diet and that of the younger son. I think since we parents are more aware, we work towards a more nutritionally balanced diet for our kids. Is that the reason why we see taller and less lankier kids than what they were in our generation?

  7. There is a difference between boys and girls when it comes to growth. The growth is more continuous for girls, but rather sudden for boys. While protein is important for both sexes, it seems to have a more intimate connection to the male hormones;
    That aside, yes. There is far less protein vis-a-vis carbohydrate in a modern (South?) Indian vegetarian meal.
    A 3:1carb:protein ratio is considered optimal. Eggs naturally contain this ratio. Some classic (South?) Indian food items contain this ratio also: Dosa/idly contain 3:1 rice:urad dal and pongal contains 3:1 rice, moongdaal. Even curd rice and dal rice (“paruppu salaam”) can be optimised to this ratio.

    1. See, I didn’t know that. But then again, it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. It happened with one of my cousin’s twins. The girl was growing taller and stronger, while the boy was shorter and sort of lankier.
      And the mother was trying to get him on protein supplements because he wouldn’t eat eggs or anything non-veg.

      Thanks for those recipes – will be sharing them with a few others who’ve always felt about this lack of good protein in south-indian veg food.

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