Many parents take it for granted that youth is a sufficient condition for having a daily bowel movement, but it is not. That assumption is misleading when we consider whether or not a child has a diet rich in fiber. For example, the eating of processed foods; consuming too much carbohydrate (starchy foods); and drinking little or no water can cause constipation in children.

There are many possible reasons for constipation in children. But socio-economic quality is negatively correlated with constipation in children. Children in low income families are less likely to consume sufficient amounts of fiber rich foliage such as greens, cabbage, okra, spinach, broccoli, unsalted sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and celery.  The conclusion stands out in 3-D. Children from lower socio-economic classes and who are physically inactive are more disposed to constipation.  According to ‘The American Family Physician’, constipation is 1.3 times more likely to occur in non-white populations than in the white population.[1] Since 46.5% of single parent female headed African American families with children less than 18 years of age are poor, then constipation generally is a serious problem for adults and is a very serious malady among African American children.[2]

So what is normal?  It is considered normal for a child to have at least one bowel movement a day.  If that does not occur regularly, then it can result in adverse side-effects such as straining to move the bowels, hard or infrequent bowel movement.  It may also cause abdominal pain; increasing the risk of urinary tract infection, sluggishness, and increasing the likelihood of developing hemorrhoids which can lead to anal burning or itching, and poor academic performance.


Parents can be proactive.  A helpful method is to examine your child’s stool (feces or popularly called boo-boo) periodically. Observing your child’s stool can help you determine if he or she is constipated.  A change in your child’s stool form is a good indicator of constipation.


Look for stool that has: 1) separate hard lumps, or 2) sausage shaped but lumpy, or 3) sausage shaped with cracks on the surface of the stool.

Remember moms and dads, you have absolute control over what goes into your child’s body for the first 6 to 7 years of life.  During that time you are the one who shapes their taste for foods and beverages. And always remember, cook good food rich in fiber and don’t worry whether they’ll eat it because when they get hungry they’ll eat what you have prepared for them.

If a child does not respond to lifestyle changes including increased fiber and water consumption, parents should seek further care from their family physician or pediatrician.

Until next time, K.C., MD (California) Physician on Call, bye

[1] American Family Physician, 2011, 84(3): p.299-306

[2] Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2011 ACS Report

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