Poor Weight Gain

girl Eating Spaghetti.

Children grow at different rates, and it is not uncommon for a child to naturally lose weight or have difficulty gaining weight during different growth stages.  Short-term, minor weight loss, like when a toddler becomes more active, are of little concern.  When a child is well-nourished but does not gain weight appropriately, then parents should take note. A clinical term for this condition is ‘failure to thrive’ (FTT), but it is also simply called poor weight gain.


The most common symptom of poor weight gain is obviously the size of the child in relation to other children of the same age.

If your baby or young child is not getting enough calories, you may also notice some of the following symptoms:

In some cases, genetics may play a role in the size of a child. However, when infants or children weigh below the 5th percentile based on sex and age, there may be cause for concern.

Causes of Poor Weight Gain

Poor weight gain in children may be caused by conditions in one of two general areas, social and medical.

In the case of social causes, the following conditions may be evident:

  1. Improperly prepared formula
  2. Inadequate supply of breast milk
  3. Family stress and neglect
  4. Body image issues in older children
  5. Poor feeding habits
  6. Poverty/limited food availability

Medical conditions that cause poor weight gain include:

  1. Chronic diarrhea
  2. Genetic disorders
  3. Food allergy/intolerance
  4. Gastrointestinal disorders
  5. Heart or kidney conditions
  6. Mechanical eating difficulties (cleft lip)
  7. Reflux or vomiting
  8. Thyroid and metabolic disorders
  9. Oral sensitivity
  10. Premature birth

No matter if the poor weight gain is social or due to medical conditions, the underlying problem is inadequate nutrition or nutrient absorption.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When children experience poor weight gain, all potential areas of concern will be evaluated to determine the underlying cause.

During an appointment with Dr. Joshua Smith, our pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Smith will perform a comprehensive medical evaluation to include a medical history review, physical exam, and lab work if deemed necessary.  This evaluation will help Dr. Smith develop a clear picture, proper diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.

Once a diagnosis has been determined, an appropriate treatment plan will be developed to target the underlying problem.

Treatment plans may include one or more of the following:

  1. Nutrition education
  2. Referrals to Gastroenterology or speech therapy
  3. Working with a psychologist in cases of social or behavioral issues
  4. Medication to address the various medical conditions that contribute to poor weight gain.

The focus will be on improving nutrition absorption and may include increased calorie intake, but not always.

Pediatric Endocrinology Specialist

Dr. Smith is the region’s only pediatric endocrinologist and is specifically trained to properly diagnose and treat the source of poor weight gain and the underlying cause of the child’s condition.

If your child is experiencing poor weight gain, call Dr. Joshua Smith for an appointment, or fill out the form below.

Appointment Form - Pediatric

Requested Location
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Live better, healthier, smarter

Schedule an Appointment