While the wrong diet can add inches to a child’s waistline, the right diet can add inches to his height. “As I tell my patients and their parents, think of calories like gas,” says human growth expert Dr. Richard Noto, a pediatric endocrinologist who heads the Diabetes and Endocrine Center for Children and Young Adults at Phelps Hospital. “If you don’t get enough gas in the car, you don’t go—or grow well.”
Up to a point. Children who eat too much may not reach their full height potential. The reason? Obese children tend to have an early onset of puberty—and therefore stop growing at an earlier age, as well.
While your genes predetermine a possible range of growth, your childhood diet establishes just how far along that range you ultimately reach come adulthood. “One of the best examples of how nutrition affects children are the second-generation Asian children who were born in the United States,” Dr. Noto notes. “Many of their parents are very short compared to other kids’ parents who were born here. And they grow up to become much taller than their parents. Clearly their genes haven’t changed, but their diet has.”
One diet that is especially bad for height? A low-carb diet. “We’ve seen some children who were on the Atkins diet who have lost weight, but they’ve also stopped growing,” Dr. Noto says. “Once we reintroduced carbs to their diet, their growth rate kicked back up again.”