Building healthy bodies in childhood includes building healthy bones. Bones are living tissue and as children grow, bones go through a regular process of older bone tissue being replaced with new bone tissue. This process can be compared to a bank account. Sometimes bone tissue is removed and other times it is deposited as the skeleton grows in size and density. Bones reach 90% of peak bone mass by age 18 for females and age 20 for males. By age 30, bone density begins to decrease. These facts highlight the importance of focusing on bone health during childhood and adolescence.
Proper nutrition and physical activity are key ingredients for achieving maximum bone density to sustain the skeleton through adulthood. Adequate intake of calcium and Vitamin D are essential to bone health. Vitamin D facilitates absorption of calcium. So how much calcium is enough? An 8 ounce glass of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium which is about 1/3 of the daily requirement for children 4 to 8 years of age and about 1/4 of the daily requirement for ages 9 to 18. Check food labels to identify foods high in calcium. A single serving containing at least 20% DV (daily intake value) is considered a high calcium food. Dairy products and calcium-fortified juice and cereals are high calcium foods. Preparing foods like soup, oatmeal and smoothies with milk may appeal to children who don’t like to drink milk. Obtaining calcium from foods is preferable to taking a calcium supplement.
Weight-bearing activities like running, dancing, soccer, gymnastics, etc. all help build bone density. Swimming and cycling are good for general health, but do not contribute to bone density. Playing outside can help increase Vitamin D blood levels though there does not appear to be a firm consensus on how much sunlight exposure is optimum. The effects of sunscreen on Vitamin D absorption are unclear and the protection it offers against skin cancer makes use of sunscreen essential. Instilling enjoyment of physical activity and monitoring calcium intake pave the way for healthy bones that will support children through adulthood.