Bone Health for a Lifetime

Bone Health for a Lifetime

Trevor M. Stubbs, MD

(May, 2021) As parents, we all want our children to be happy and healthy, both now and when they are adults. Typical advice sounds something like “eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise.” While completely true, some of us might need a little more instruction than that to gain bone health for a lifetime.

To start, why is bone health so important during childhood and adolescence? Research shows that building bone mass early reduces the risk of osteoporosis later in life. We reach peak bone mass by our 20’s, meaning we need to invest in bone health well before then with three important variables:

Calcium

Calcium is a mineral required to build and maintain strong bones. Because our body cannot make calcium, we must get it from the foods we eat. If we don’t ingest enough, the gradual loss of calcium from our bones makes them weak. 

Good Sources of Calcium:

  • Dairy products like milk & yogurt
  • Leafy vegetables like kale & broccoli
  • Calcium-fortified foods like cereals & juices

Sweetened carbonated beverages can decrease the body’s ability to absorb calcium – another reason (as your dentist agrees) to avoid sodas. Reaching the healthy calcium target of 1300mg a day would require 1 cup of yogurt, milk, orange juice, and cereal plus 1 slice of cheese every day.  Is your child packing that much in? If not – consider an over-the-counter calcium supplement. Typical multivitamins don’t contain enough.   

Vitamin D

Vitamin D ensures our body can absorb calcium in our intestine.  Children develop brittle and bowed bones – or rickets – when the body is short on Vitamin D.   Despite the name, Vitamin D is technically a hormone, because our body can make it when exposed to sunlight. Some studies suggest 10-15 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen several times per week. Of course, the need for sunscreen and cold weather can make that sunshine goal a challenge.        Fish and fortified milk are the best sources of Vitamin D in food, but your child is likely not getting enough.   Optimal Vitamin D takes 100 IU in 1 cup of milk. If your little one is drinking less than 4 cups per day and not spending much time outdoors, consider supplementing with 400 IU of Vitamin D in common multivitamins.  

Exercise

Get moving!  Kids need at least 35 to 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Bones respond to this exercise by building more bone.  Besides the bones, staying active is good for the heart and lungs, decreases obesity and improves overall mental health.   How to get kids off the video games and outdoors?

  • Make it fun! Consider a team sport, racquet sport, dancing, skating, hiking or just playground time
  • Be a role model and plan activities together like a family walk
  • Look for toys that require physical activity

 Here’s a breakdown on just what we need to develop bone health for a lifetime. Own your bones early! Your body will thank you later.

Age GroupRecommended Daily Calcium (mg)Recommended Minimum Vitamin D (IU)
1-3700 mg600 IU
4-81000 mg600 IU
9-181300 mg600 IU
19-501000 mg600 IU
51-70 (Men)1000 mg600 IU
51-70 (Women)1200 mg600 IU
71+1200 mg800 IU

*American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons