Should children fast through Ramadan?

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"Young children can't read their body signals yet, so they don't know that they may be becoming dehydrated." Photo: Getty Images
"Young children can't read their body signals yet, so they don't know that they may be becoming dehydrated." Photo: Getty Images

This month marks the start of Ramadan, a holy month that sees Muslims across the world fast until 12 May.

Believers taking part will not eat or drink anything during daylight, and often these practices extend to the entire family.

But medical experts warn families not to pressurise young children to partake and dissuade young ones from performing any fasting.

"The danger of fasting in young children is that they can suffer from hypoglycemia, a condition that sees their blood sugar drop and can cause them to become weak, dizzy or even unconscious," says Dr Iqbal Karbanee, a paediatrician and CEO of Paed-IQ BabyLine, a trusted telephonic medical advice service for the first 1000 days of a child's life, starting from conception to birth and beyond.

He says while adults are better able to cope with long periods of not having food or water, for young children, who are active and participate in school, the dangers far outweigh the reasons for fasting.

"Young children can't read their body signals yet, so they don’t know that they may be becoming dehydrated, for example, so they are at a higher risk of having an adverse reaction when fasting," says Karbanee. "Children also can't regulate their temperature well."

Read: How to explain the holy month of Ramadan to your kids

He says that mask-wearing by children has added another layer of complexity to the situation, as it becomes difficult to see if children are starting to show signs of lethargy, difficulty breathing, lack of concentration and so on, especially if they are at creche or school and active on the playground.

"Ramadan falls during the school calendar. As there is no law or rule preventing kids from fasting, parents should be warned that fasting, and particularly the absence of fluids, could harm performance in school in young children," he says. 

Karbanee warns parents that they should only allow their children to fast if they have reached the age of physical maturity or puberty, which means that children under the age of about 13 to 14 should not participate in fasting.

He adds that due to naiveté, or due to not consulting medically-trained professionals like doctors, families who fast often also expect their children to do so.

Children also see their parents fast and, due to peer or societal pressure, express the need to participate. He adds that when families break their fast by eating, they may also be more likely to develop too-high blood sugar levels or hyperglycemia.

Also read: Bedtime tips to make this Ramadan easier for you and your baby

The long-term dangers of hyperglycemia can include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage or failure, or damage to the eyes, which over the long term through diabetes, can potentially lead to blindness.

"Be wary of eating calorie-rich foods at night when breaking the fast. There may be many savouries or sweets in the house, which may be tempting to grab due to their convenience. Still, you will end up eating a meal you would not usually do during everyday circumstances, outside of the fasting period."

He says that normal, healthy habits should persist for the whole family throughout the fasting period. One of the critical principles of fasting during Ramadaan is to learn self-restraint. This does not stop when the fast ends.

"Consult with a medical practitioner before allowing your children to fast, to determine whether it is safe to do so, and do not bow to peer or family pressure. Consider phoning a trusted, medically trained nursing service for advice if you are unsure of how to deal with the situation," concludes Karbanee.

Submitted to Parent24 by Paed-IQ BabyLine

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