Osteoporosis: It Starts in Childhood
We think of Osteoporosis as something that only affects people over 50, but the truth is, we build most of our bone density in our teens! Many kids are not getting enough calcium and exercise, which means they don’t build as much bone density as they need in life.
The average girl grows the fastest in height between the ages of 11 and 12 years, and stops growing between the ages of 14 and 15 years. About 95% of a young woman's peak bone mass is present by age 20, and some overall gains in mass often continue until age 30.
The average boy has his fastest rate of growth in height between ages 13 and 14, and stops growing between ages 17 and 18. Peak bone mass occurs 9 to 12 months after the peak rate in height growth.
Source: Healthy Bones at Every Age
That means that it is really important to focus on bone health in the tween and teen years. Our kids need to build their bone mass as high as possible so they can deal with life's demands.
Bone mass declines naturally after 30, but other factors can deplete bones faster:
High alcohol consumption depletes bones
Poor diet - our hearts need calcium to pump properly, and if not enough calcium is present in the blood stream, the body leaches calcium from our bones
Lack of adequate exercise - bones respond to exercise by building themselves up so they can do what you ask them to do. If you don't ask them to do anything, they don't build themselves up
Pregnancy and Lactation -- babies leach calcium out of our bones!
I am just thinking of myself in college. I went through periods where I stopped exercising because I was working and going to school at the same time, pulling all-nighters to meet deadlines. I ate a fairly balanced diet, but there were a lot of ramen noodles in there, too. I went through vegan periods and stopped all dairy intake. And I started drinking alcohol and coffee at that age. I was doing the best I could. But looking back, I wish I had thought about this more. I wish that I had gotten better at taking my vitamins!
It is worth investigating our kids' and grandkids' nutrition to make sure they are getting calcium and other bone-nourishing nutrients.
I am not a nutritionist, so I can’t recommend any particular nutrition plans or supplements. But I can provide some resources here.
There is a lot of debate about whether our bones actually absorb the calcium from dairy products. We should look at other sources of calcium besides dairy. Food is a very personal thing, and I respect everyone's choices in how they nourish themselves.
From what I can see most experts don't recommend putting kids on calcium supplements, at least not on the internet. I did see an article suggesting all kids take vitamin D supplements. This is a matter to discuss with your family and doctors. The general game plan should be having a varied diet, and exercising regularly.
Here are a few sources:
Calcium Requirements for Kids’ Growing Bones
Calcium, Nutrition, and Bone Health
Calcium Content of Common Foods
Top Ten Vegan Sources of Calcium
International Osteoporosis Foundation: https://www.osteoporosis.foundation/
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