A large percentage of toddlers and children are not meeting their dairy intake needs. Did you also know that osteoporosis, a disease causing weak and brittle bones effecting almost half the elderly population, is completely preventable through exercise and adequate dairy consumption in youth? Unfortunately, most parents don’t know the quantity of dairy products their children need or just how important it is for their health.
Peak bone mass is influenced by some factors that children can’t change e.g., gender and race and some that they can, e.g., nutrition and physical activity.
Bone mass tends to be higher in males than in females. Before puberty, both boys and girls develop bone mass at similar rates. During and after puberty, boys begin to accumulate greater bone mass than girls.
In the USA, African American girls tend to achieve higher peak bone mass than Caucasian girls, and African American women are at lower risk for osteoporosis later in life. However, because all women are at risk for osteoporosis, all children need to build as much bone mass as possible through their youth.
Calcium is an essential nutrient for bone health, especially during childhood. A well-balanced diet including adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D (around 600 IU a day) is also important as they are all needed for optimal calcium absorption and bone growth. See tips on eating a calcium rich diet below.
Physical activity is important for building healthy bones. Astronauts in zero gravity lose bone density very quickly as their bones are not bearing any weight. Exercise is really beneficial in the weight-bearing areas of the skeleton such as the pelvis, and the arms of tennis players and weight lifters.
Dairy products are our main source of calcium, a nutrient that helps strengthen bones and teeth. Calcium deficiencies can lead to osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weak bones, which increases the risk of bone fractures later in life. However, calcium is most important when our bones are still growing.
By the age of 20 to 25, our bodies are no longer able to build additional bone mass, they only maintain what they already have. Therefore, it is especially important throughout childhood to consume sufficient dairy products to build the bone stores needed later in life.
Current guidelines recommend that:
A portion of dairy can be any of the following:
While the above dairy products are the primary sources of calcium you can also take in small amounts from other foods such as green vegetables, nuts, and fish. Many non-dairy milks can also contain added calcium – such as soy, rice and almond milk.
Here are some simple tips to help toddlers get adequate calcium.
Vitamin D is really important to help calcium absorb properly. Children over the age of 1 year need 600 IU a day. It’s hard to get it from the sun in colder climates like the UK – and harder for toddlers with dark skin, so a supplement is recommended.