By Regina Brown, M.D.
The contents of this web site are provided as an informational tool. This is not intended to replace medical advice or care administered by a healthcare professional. Common sense should always be used when referencing this site. If, at any time, you feel your child is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.
Osteoporosis (thin, weak bones) is a major health problem today in this country. It is expensive, costing 13.8 billion dollars a year. It causes major disability, as 70% of people who are diagnosed with osteoporosis eventually lose their independence. It is extremely common, affecting 50% of women over the age of 50, and 25% of men after that age. But why should we be concerned? This is not a pediatric problem, right?
Wrong! As with many other aspects of our health, prevention of this disorder begins in childhood and continues throughout our lives. An individual’s peak bone mass is achieved by age 29, and this serves as their “bone bank” for the rest of their adult life. After this age, it is possible to maintain your bone mass- but it is impossible to add to it. This means the childhood and teen years are crucial for growing healthy, strong bones. A person’s genetics determines 60-80% of their ultimate bone mass, but lifestyle factors are very important as well, and that includes both good nutrition and a good activity level.
The nutrients that we need to develope strong bones are calcium and Vitamin D. The recommended daily calcium intake is 500 mg a day for ages 1 – 3, 800 mg a day for ages 4 – 8, and 1300 mg a day for ages 9-18. 1300 mg of calcium is the amount found in 4 servings a day of calcium rich foods, for example, 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1/2 a cup of tofu, or 2 1/2 cups of broccoli. Unfortunately, many children’s diets today are deficient in calcium. Why? Well, 75% of dietary calcium typically comes from dairy, and dairy consumption in children and teens in the country is down 40%. What has taken dairy’s place? Soda consumption is up 200-300% ! We need to get kids back to drinking milk and juice with calcium and away from soda and sport’s drinks. There are also calcium supplements available for people who are allergic to dairy or for some other reason can’t get enough calcium into their diet, such as Tums (200-500 mg) and Viactive (500mg). Vitamin D is also available from fortified dairy products, and from the sun. About 2 hours a week outside in the sun, wearing clothes but not wearing sunscreen, will give someone all the Vitamin D they need ( SPF 8 blocks over 97% of Vitamin D production).
Good nutrition is not enough, however, a good level of physical activity is needed to make bones strong. Weight bearing physical activity increases bone mass, and immobility causes rapid bone loss. Lean body mass is also linked to bone strength, it is both risky to the bones if one is underweight or overweight. The best activities are those that use your large muscles against gravity, such as walking, running, bike riding, basketball, soccer, rollar skating, etc. (using the appropriate safety equipment). When it comes to activity and bone health, it is very true that “if there is no strain, there will be no gain”, and “use it or lose it”.
All of these recommendations are also good for adults who would like to maintain their bone mass as well. Hopefully, through better nutrition and a healthier level of activity in childhood, and maintanence of these healthy habits throughout adult life, we can eliminate this serious crippling disease from our society.