She wants kids to eat right

The Straits Times, Mind Your Body, 31 May 2012, By Joan Chew

Paediatrician Chu Hui Ping tells Joan Chew why it is crucial for children to get proper nutrition

I sub-specialise in paediatric gastroenterology and nutrition because..

I believe that good nutrition is the foundation for good health. Proper nutrition in childhood helps to reinforce lifelong eating habits and contributes to the child's overall well-being and development.

A child's body is fascinating because...

Its speed of growth is tremendous.

For instance, the brain reaches about 80 per cent of its final adult size by the age of two, while the intestine grows from an average length of 2.75m at birth to up to 9m by adulthood.

It is crucial to ensure that a growing child enjoys optimal health as childhood illnesses may limit his potential to develop mentally and physically.

If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I would...

Be a teacher. My job does not just involve making a diagnosis and treating the patient.

It is vital to educate both the child and his family members on the medical condition and let them know what they can do to help the child. I like to give my patients tips on healthy living and eating as I feel that it is their responsibility to keep their bodies in top form.

A typical day for me would...

Start early at 8am in the wards, where I go to review my paediatric inpatients and follow up on newborn babies.

I start my clinic between 8.30am and 9am.

I see a variety of paediatric conditions.

They range from routine vaccination and assessing the development of infants and young children to complicated cases of chronic diarrhoea and feeding problems.

I spend a lot of time counselling and educating my patients and the caregivers on the patients' conditions and how to manage them.

After a long day at work, which ends at 5.30pm or 6pm, I like to relax by swimming or listening to music. Occasionally, I love to whip up something healthy such as a slow-boiled soup or a fruity smoothie drink.

I have come across all types of cases...

Including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and feeding disorders.

IBD is a rare and chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and children afflicted by it will have abdominal pain, diarrhoea, rectal bleeding and weight loss, and even fail to grow.

Dealing with feeding disorders in children, which range from the usual being fussy about food to sensory aversions, is challenging.

I need to ensure that they have no medical problems, such as nutritional deficiency or reflux issues, and also address psychological aspects, such as the child's reaction to a new food and the family's attitude when feeding the child.

I love patients who are...

Willing to take the initiative to learn about their medical conditions as well as change their lifestyles to a healthier one.

This really makes my job easier because it means that the patients are more compliant with the treatment options and play a more active role in their own disease management.

Patients who get my goat are...

Those who insist that there is a miracle drug that can cure their condition completely without the need for a healthy lifestyle.

Things that put a smile on my face are...

Seeing children recover from their illnesses and returning to their active and happy lives.

It breaks my heart when...

A sick child gets admitted to hospital and needs multiple injections or blood taking.

Although I know that I am treating the child via these procedures, it still pains me to see them cry, especially when I am the one who has to administer the procedures.

I wouldn't trade places for the world because...

I know I am making a difference in the lives of sick children when I heal and comfort them.

It is especially rewarding when I see a sick child recover and start running around once more. Very often, I will demand a hug or a kiss from the child.

My best tip...

Is to cultivate healthy eating habits from young. Parents should aim to be role models and make healthy diet choices in front of their young ones.

This way, children learn naturally from observing their parents and grow up making healthy choices for themselves without even realising it.

Dr Chu Hui Ping

AGE: 34
OCCUPATION: Consultant paediatrician at Raffles Children's Centre at Raffles Hospital

Dr Chu's desire to help sick children was sparked by an encounter when she was a third-year medical student with a 14-year-old girl who had spinal muscular atrophy, an incurable disease in which the muscles waste away.

The teenager's cheerful demeanour made all the medical students and nurses feel close to her, said Dr Chu.

Since then, Dr Chu has had numerous opportunities to witness how children "often exhibit the greatest courage in difficult times although they look fragile", she said.

She completed her sub-specialty training in paediatric gastroenterology and nutrition in Great Ormond Street Hospital and paediatric hepatology in Kings' College Hospital in London in 2010.

Last year, she completed her Diploma in Dermatology at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University Hospital.

She worked at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) for a decade before joining Raffles Hospital in March. She is currently a visiting consultant at KKH.

She also handles patients with problems specific to the digestive tract and those with feeding or nutritional issues.

She is married to a 34-year-old consultant dermatologist at the National Skin Centre. They have no children.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission

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