A dietitian from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has said it is generally safe for most children to fast during Ramadan.
However, she urges 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, fiber-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.
Souikey notes there may be health benefits associated with fasting for children who are overweight or obese; however, she recommends that parents consult their family doctor before making any changes to the child’s diet, particularly if the child has an existing medical condition.