Physical activity, calcium and vitamin D are essential for building strong bones, says Dr. Samuel Rosenfeld, orthopaedic surgeon with the CHOC Orthopaedic Institute. Developing good bone health during childhood helps prevent fractures and osteoporosis later in life.
Bone is living tissue in the skeleton that constantly changes. Old bone gets replaced with new. The greatest amount of bone tissue grows during childhood and adolescence as the skeleton expands in size and density. It is during this period of active growth when calcium is essential. In addition to requiring a great deal of calcium, the young body absorbs calcium more effectively. For this reason, children need to “bank” extra calcium for bone health.
Some of the most common sources of calcium are from dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Note, however, that calcium in dairy products are bound by fat and not absorbed. For that reason, children should get their dietary calcium from fat-free dairy products taken at least one hour away from meals. Other sources include calcium-fortified soy milk and juices, canned salmon (with bones) and sardines, and dark green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and kale.
For calcium to be effective in bone growth and development, it is also important that children get enough vitamin D. This can be done through careful sun exposure and eating vitamin D-rich foods such as fortified milk and milk products, cod liver oil, red meat, eggs, mushrooms and some fatty fish.
Calcium and vitamin-D supplements are also important to consider, to ensure children, especially those with certain chronic conditions, are getting enough bone-boosting nutrients. Parents should consult their child’s physician before giving supplements. In this video, Dr. Rosenfeld explains that building healthy bones actually starts while the child is still in the womb, and continues through childhood.
Bone Health Recommendations by Age
Age 7 and younger
Calcium intake: 250 mg twice daily
Vitamin D3 intake: 250 IUs twice daily
Calcium intake: 500 mg twice daily
Vitamin D3 intake: 500 IUs twice daily
Age 14 and older
Calcium intake: 600 mg twice daily
Vitamin D3 intake: 2000 IUs twice daily
In addition to a calcium and vitamin D-rich diet, children should participate in physical activity, advises Dr. Rosenfeld.
“Ideally, exercise should be part of a child’s daily routine. Parents should help their children find activities and sports they enjoy, so they’ll continue to participate in them,” says Dr. Rosenfeld.
Good bone health is not difficult to achieve and maintain, adds Dr. Rosenfeld.
“It doesn’t take fad pills or fancy supplements,” he explains.
“Establishing a routine of taking calcium and vitamin D, along with a little exercise, is the ‘prescription’ for healthy bones.”