What You Should Know About Your Child’s Bone Health
Bones are important structures for your body. They provide support, allow for movement, protect organs, produce blood cells, and store minerals. If you take care of your bones, you should expect a lifetime of use from them. If you don't, you may have problems, such as osteoporosis
. Parents should be aware of what osteoporosis is and why it concerns their children. There are steps you can take while they are young to protect children from getting osteoporosis later in life.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease that gradually weakens bones until they break easily, sometimes after little or no injury. The bones most likely to be affected are the hip, spine, and wrist. Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because there are usually no symptoms of the disease until a bone breaks. Osteoporosis is generally associated with older women, but anyone can get it.
As your children grow into adulthood, certain habits and lifestyle factors will also play into their risk of increased loss of bone mass. These factors include smoking, lack of physical activity, and poor diet. Although genetics is not a risk factor that can be modified, others can be. It is important to maintain good bone health throughout life.
Why Do Children and Teens Need to Worry About It?
Osteoporosis is a disease that manifests in older adults, but health professionals now suspect that its origins may occur in childhood. The peak years for bone formation are during adolescence—between ages 9-18 years—when more calcium is added to bone than is lost. For both boys and girls, most of this bone formation is complete by the age of 20. By getting enough calcium and weight-bearing activity in these critical years, it is thought that children can reduce their risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
Getting Enough Calcium
Since their bones are soaking up more
now than they ever will, children and teens have especially high calcium needs. Unfortunately, children today may not be getting what they need. The following table outlines the recommendations by the Institute of Medicine for calcium intake in children:
(milligrams per day)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that children and teens eat a variety of calcium-rich foods. The table below lists some good calcium sources and the amount of calcium and calories that they contain:
|Low-fat yogurt, plain
|Tofu, prepared with calcium
|Low-fat milk (1%)
|Reduced fat milk (2%)
|Calcium-fortified orange juice
Getting Enough Vitamin D
While most people know that calcium is essential for building strong, healthy bones, many are not aware that
is also critical for bone health. Vitamin D can be obtained from the diet—mainly from vitamin D-fortified dairy products. Also, when your are exposed to the sun, your skin makes vitamin D.
The body can store vitamin D for weeks or months, so it is not necessary to consume it or be in the sun every day. In many cases, children and teenagers may not spend enough time outdoors to get their needed vitamin D intake. Sunscreens, which are vital for protecting the skin from the sun’s harmful rays, may reduce the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D. For these reasons, it is important for children and teens to eat food fortified with vitamin D. Supplements are also available. For children older than 1 year and adolescents, the recommended daily dose is 600 International Units (IU).
The table below shows major food sources of vitamin D:
Vitamin D Content (IU)
|Cod liver oil
|Salmon (pink), cooked
|Tuna fish, canned in water
|Sardines, canned in oil and drained
|Milk vitamin D-fortified (nonfat, reduced fat, whole)
|Soy milk, calcium-fortified
Incorporating Weight-bearing Activities
Doing weight-bearing physical activities helps to build stronger, healthier bones by forcing your bones to work against gravity. The stress triggers bones to build more cells and become stronger. If you help your children find weight-bearing activities that they find enjoyable, then they will be more likely to do them regularly.
Some weight-bearing activities for children and teens are:
- Jumping rope
- Tae kwon do
By learning bone-promoting behaviors during childhood, like eating right and staying active, not only will children build strong bones while they are young, but they will also adopt habits that will keep their bones strong and healthy as they age.
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center
About Kids Health
Caring for Kids
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