Calcium Sources for Kids
The key to building healthy bones for life
Who would have thought that osteoporosis — the brittle-bone disease that afflicts 10 million Americans over age 50 — is something you need to worry about for your kids? Not Maribel Burke. A few years ago, her 9-year-old daughter, Christina, mysteriously fractured each arm twice within 18 months. "The first time she was just catching a kickball," Burke says. It happened again when another child bumped into her on a slide. As one cast came off, another went on.
After putting Christina through a bone-density study, Maribel received the shocking news: Her daughter had osteoporosis.
The bone-study doctor was taken aback, too — until Burke explained that her pediatrician had told Christina to stay away from dairy products as a hedge against the migraines she had been suffering. Once Christina started drinking milk again and taking a supplement containing calcium and vitamin D, her bone density improved, and she hasn't had a fracture since.
This may sound like an extreme example, but a surprising number of kids today have weak bones that are fracturing at alarming rates. The most recent study on thetopic found that kids 8 to 14 in the Mayo Clinic’s hometown of Rochester, MN, suffered broken bones 41 percent more frequently than children did in the previous 20-year span.
"Kids are more calcium-deficient than ever before," says lead researcher A. The reason? Children are drinking way too much soda and juice and not nearly enough milk.
Calcium and vitamin D (which helps the body absorb calcium) are essential for children to develop strong, healthy bones. Nearly half of preschoolers and more than 60 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds fail to meet their daily calcium requirements, a lack that sets them up for a bone-density deficit in the future. But take the following steps now, and there’s still time to turn things around.
Make sure your kids get the amount of calcium the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says they need daily for their age:
- 1 to 3: 500mg
- 4 to 8: 800mg
- 9 & up: 1,300mg
To reach these thresholds, kids should drink at least three 8-ounce glasses of vitamin D–fortified milk per day — which means you should serve milk (or a dairy equivalent, such as 6 ounces of cheese) at every meal. As a calcium source, milk has an edge over sugar-laden, calcium-fortified beverages like orange juice and it also contains protein and essential bone-strengthening vitamins and minerals like riboflavin, phosphorus and zinc.
If your kids don't like plain milk, try flavored varieties. A Journal of the American Dietetic Association study showed that children who drank chocolate, vanilla or strawberry milk took in almost 7 ounces more per day than those who drank regular milk.
Drink milk yourself
"Getting enough calcium is a family affair," says Stephanie Smith, RD, of the National Dairy Council. Setting an example for girls is especially critical. Studies show that daughters whose moms drink milk regularly consume more of it themselves — and drink less soda.
Choose a supplement
It's best to get calcium and vitamin D from food sources, but if your child isn't consuming enough of either, consider a supplement. AAP guidelines recommend a vitamin D supplement for kids who drink less than one daily quart of milk.
Get daily exercise
As muscles contract during high-intensity activity, tendons tug against kids’ bones to stimulate growth. The latest stats say preschoolers get just half of the 60 minutes of daily exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Get the kids out to the park or sign them up for sports, dance or martial arts. Just 15 extra minutes of activity a day can increase bone strength significantly.
Sandra Gordon is a nationally published freelance writer.