Trevor M. Stubbs, MD
(February, 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! Bone health in children starts far earlier than you might imagine, and is essential to preventing fractures in the future.
When Does Bone Health Begin?
Bone health begins in childhood and is essential through adolescence. Research shows that building bone mass early reduces the risk of osteoporosis later in life. This common disorder leads bones to become very fragile and more likely to break. Older adults with osteoporosis are most vulnerable to breaks in the wrist, hip, and spine. These fractures can seriously limit mobility and independence. 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 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 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.
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 at each age. If you’re over 50 and concerned about your own bone health, consider an evaluation with our Bone Health Clinic. Own your bones early! Your body will thank you later.
|Age Group||Recommended Daily Calcium (mg)||Recommended Minimum Vitamin D (IU)|
|1-3||700 mg||600 IU|
|4-8||1000 mg||600 IU|
|9-18||1300 mg||600 IU|
|19-50||1000 mg||600 IU|
|51-70 (Men)||1000 mg||600 IU|
|51-70 (Women)||1200 mg||600 IU|
|71+||1200 mg||800 IU|