Help Your Kids Build Stronger Bones

Take a drive through any residential neighborhood and you’ll notice something missing from the landscape: kids seldom play outside. Whether it’s caused by greater access to indoor entertainment, budgets that trim physical education from schools, or concern about safety, it’s becoming obvious that kids’ sedentary lifestyles can have an effect on their adult health.

“Because kids aren’t as active and they aren’t consuming enough calcium and vitamin D, they have the potential for lowering their peak bone mass as an adult,” says Heather Fink, a registered dietitian with Indiana University Health Sports Performance. The body builds most of the adult skeleton between ages 10 and 20, with peak bone mass occurring between 25 and 30, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. During the development phase, everyone needs adequate exercise, calcium and vitamin D to form healthy, durable bone mass.

Fink says bone growth is stimulated by the stress of running, jumping and playing. With less outdoor play, kids also miss sunlight that can help them get vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption.

“I think one of the other things that’s happened is that youth sports have gotten so serious that we don’t have quite as many opportunities for kids who just want to participate, have fun and be part of a group,” she says. Wary of fat, some health conscious parents have also cut dairy products from their kids’ diets without replacing its calcium and vitamin D.

What can you do to help your kids achieve better bone health and make up for these societal factors? Fink offers these tips for getting more calcium, vitamin D and exercise:

  1. Make time to play outside with your kids in unstructured ways. Federal guidelines say kids need at least one hour of exercise each day.
  2. The body absorbs calcium better from foods than from supplements, but kids and adults should take a multi-vitamin supplement, especially if their diet does not include enough calcium and vitamin D.
  3. Kids between the ages of 9 and 18 need 1300 milligrams of daily calcium. Adults ages 19 to 50 need at least 1000 milligrams. A cup of milk has 350 milligrams of calcium and a cup of yogurt has 300 to 500. Make sure your kids drink the equivalent of four glasses of milk each day. Adults need at least the equivalent of three glasses per day.
  4. Remember that milk doesn’t have to be fattening. One glass of skim milk has zero fat and only 80 calories. If your family is vegan, drink orange juice or dairy alternatives like almond, rice or soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  5. Eat sardines and wild-caught salmon. Both are rich in vitamin D.

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