Parents urged to monitor children during Ramadan fast
A general practitioner from the Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) and a dietitian from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) have said it is generally safe for most children to fast during Ramadan.
However, they urge parents to monitor their children and watch for signs of distress, noting that children are at an increased risk for dehydration and may also experience low blood sugar as a result of fasting.
“While children are not obligated to fast until they reach puberty, many children wish to observe the practice during Ramadan,” said Fatma Souikey, clinical dietitian supervisor at Hamad General Hospital.
Parents can support their children by encouraging them to get plenty of sleep and serving healthy, nutrient-dense foods during Suhoor and Iftar, she explained.
“For parents whose children will be fasting for the first time, we recommend they delay the Suhoor meal for as long as possible. This will ensure the fasting hours are not unnecessarily prolonged and help prevent undue stress on the child’s young body. For younger children, parents can encourage shorter fasts, allowing the child to abstain for a few hours each day and gradually introducing all-day fasting as the child ages,” Souikey suggested.
She recommends serving slow-digesting, fibre-rich foods such as wholegrain cereals, fruits, and vegetables during Suhoor. It is important for parents to encourage their children to drink plenty of water and limit stimulants such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks.
“Children are at high risk for dehydration so it is important for parents to monitor their activity level, particularly when Ramadan falls during the hotter months. It is also important for parents to monitor their child’s diet, ensuring they eat sufficiently but do not overeat, especially on foods that contain high amounts of fat and sugar. Encourage your child to eat slowly and to enjoy their meal. This will also help prevent overeating, which can cause bloating, indigestion, and an upset stomach,” added Souikey.
Dr Attia Ibrahim, a General Practitioner at the PHCC, said Ramadan is a great time to teach younger children the basics of fasting. He recommends parents use the early years to slowly build their child’s love for the month of Ramadan so that when they are able to fast, they will look forward to the month with a good understanding of some of the fundamental principles. He also recommends parents start building good habits for their children while they are young, encouraging them to eat healthy foods during the month and to avoid highly processed, convenience foods like many of those sold at fast food restaurants.
“Provided the child is in good health and has no existing medical conditions, such as anaemia, diabetes, or nutritional deficits, encourage them to gradually abstain from food and drink during the month, gradually increasing the length of time they are abstaining. For example, have them start by skipping breakfast and let them practice breaking their fast during lunch. Younger children may not be able to physically fast during Ramadan, so let them observe the routine you follow during the month and encourage them to get involved however they can. Be patient and let your children make their own decisions about how long they can fast. Encourage and reward their efforts,” said Dr Ibrahim.
Good nutrition is especially important for children who fast and they should consume dairy products, protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a variety of important vitamins and minerals.
“Eating whole grains, protein, and complex carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, beans, and lentils will provide children with a long-lasting source of energy throughout the day. Offer them low-fat dairy products and try to incorporate healthy unsaturated fats like avocado and olive oil. Limit the number of sweets they eat during the Suhoor meal as simple carbohydrates will be quickly digested and your child will soon feel hungry again. Children who fast should be encouraged to avoid high-intensity exercise and to drink lots of fluids, especially water, during non-fasting hours. It is important to ensure your child stays hydrated, as not having enough fluid in the body will lead to constipation and can irritate the bladder,” said Dr Ibrahim.
Both Dr Ibrahim and Souikey note there may be health benefits associated with fasting for children who are overweight or obese; however, they recommend parents consult their family doctor before making any changes to the child’s diet, particularly if the child has an existing medical condition.
The Ministry of Public Health, HMC, and Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) have reminded members of the public about the Ramadan Health website and companion smartphone and tablet app. The Ramadan Health website is Qatar’s first online resource devoted to health and wellness during the Holy Month. Visit the Ramadan Health website at www.hamad.qa/ramadanhealth, or download the app to a smartphone or tablet by searching for ‘Qatar Health’ (available for iOS and Android operating systems).
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