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Kids' bodies grow slowly so their brains can grow quickly

Kids in a foster care home eating
Kids in a foster care home eating
Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Clearly good nutrition is essential for the healthy development of kids. In fact a kids brain is growing so quickly it needs extra nutrition during childhood. Northwestern University reported on Aug. 25, 2014 that a long childhood feeds the hungry human brain.

Northwestern University anthropologists have found a five year old uses twice as much glucose, which is the energy that fuels the brain, as that of a full-grown adult. In fact a five year old’s brain has been called an energy monster. A study of this fact has helped to solve the mystery of why human kids grow so slowly in comparison with our closest animal relatives.

It is likely that humans grow at a pace which is more typical of a reptile than a mammal during childhood because energy which is directed to the brain dominates the human body’s metabolism early in life. Christopher Kuzawa, first author of the study, says the findings of this research have suggested that our bodies can’t afford to grow faster during the toddler and childhood years due to the large quantity of resources required to fuel the developing human brain.

Kuzawa points out that as humans we have so much to learn, and that learning needs a very complex brain which is hungry
for energy. The findings of this study support the hypothesis in anthropology that kids grow so slowly, and are dependent for such a long time, because the human body needs to divert a significant fraction of its resources to the brain during childhood, therefore leaving little to be used for body growth.

It has been reported by PNAS that the metabolic costs of human brain development are thought to explain the evolution of humans’ unusually slow and protracted growth during childhood. The researchers have concluded that the unusually high costs of development of the human brain require a compensatory slowing of body growth during childhood. Therefore, it is clearly vitally important to make certain kids eat well.