You may not think much about your kids’ bones, but it’s important to. A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), published in Pediatrics suggests that a few simple steps taken during childhood (both literal and figurative) can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your kids having healthy bones when they’re grown.
To prevent the risk of brittle bones and osteoporosis, the AAP report encourages kids to start with their diets. It recommends that kids routinely consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D from milk and other foods (including fortified ones). It also recommends that kids engage in regular exercise—something not only great for their bones, but for their bodies and minds. And when it comes to strengthening bones, simply playing and incorporating weight-bearing activities like walking, dancing and running are especially effective. And they’re so easy for kids to incoporate, even in short bursts, throughout each day.
According to the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Dietary Reference Intakes, daily calcium (expressed in milligrams) and vitamin D (expressed in International Units) recommendations are as follows:
*Infants up to six months of age: 200 mg calcium; 400 IU vitamin D.
*Infants six- to 12-months of age: 260 mg calcium; 400 IU vitamin D.
*One- to three-year-olds: 700 mg calcium; 600 IU vitamin D.
*Four- to eight-year-olds: 1,000 mg calcium; 600 IU vitamin D.
*Nine- to 18-year-olds: 1,300 mg calcium; 600 IU vitamin D.
Some calcium-rich foods kids can enjoy include:
*low-fat or nonfat yogurt (~300 to 400 mg per 8-ounce cup)
*low-fat or nonfat milk (~300 mg per 8-ounce cup)
*cheese—Swiss, cheddar, muenster etc. (~200 mg per ounce)
*fortified ready-to-eat cereal—preferably whole grain, low sugar, high fiber varieties (check labels since amounts vary)
*calcium-fortified soy beverage (~350 mg per cup)
*oatmeal, plain, instant—preferably with no sugar added (~100 mg per packet)
*tofu, firm (~250 mg per half cup)
Fish, beans, and greens (like spinach) also provide calcium. Here’s a more complete list of calcium-rich foods and the amounts each provides from Harvard University Health Services.
Although kids can get some vitamin D from the sun, it’s wise to seek this nutrient, vital for the absorption of calcium, from food sources. Eating vitamin D-rich foods not only helps them keep their bones strong, but it protects their skin from overexposure that can lead to sunburn.
Here are some foods rich in vitamin D that kids can enjoy:
*salmon, cooked (360 IU per 3.5 ounces)
*tuna fish, canned in oil (200 IU per 3 ounces)
*low-fat or nonfat milk (~100 per 8-ounce cup)
Fortified ready-to-eat cereal, eggs, and Swiss cheese also contain some vitamin D.
If your child follows current dietary guidelines—though let’s face it, most don’t—he or she should be able to meet current calcium and vitamin D intake recommendations. But if your child follows a diet that excludes or minimizes foods like milk, yogurt, or fish, or if he or she doesn’t have a varied diet that includes green vegetables, beans or other calcium-rich plant foods, be sure to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for ideas to get more of these vital nutrients into meals and snacks. An RDN and a pediatrician can also help you figure out if your child needs or would benefit from supplementation of either calcium or vitamin D. Although it’s prudent to follow IOM current recommended intakes for calcium and vitamin D, many experts believe more vitamin D (mainly through supplementation) would be beneficial for kids. But again, speak with your dietitian or a pediatrician to discuss what’s best for your child in the context of his or her diet and nutrition status.
Although the AAP does not recommend routine calcium supplementation for healthy children and adolescents, it does support testing children for vitamin D deficiency if they have conditions associated with increased bone fragility.
It’s key when kids are young to help them set the stage for optimal health in adulthood. Helping them keep their bones strong with three key strategies—eating enough calcium-rich foods, meeting vitamin D needs, and exercising—can go a long way in helping them ward off brittle bones and osteoporosis (not to mention the mental and physical debilitation they contribute to) down the road.
How do you help your kids achieve and maintain strong bones?
Image of cute little girl and boy are drinking milk using straw via shutterstock.
While the review found that more physical activity was linked with greater health benefits, even modest amounts of physical activity were shown to have tremendous health benefits in high-risk children (e.g., those who were obese or had high blood pressure). And while moderate physical activity is recommended, vigorous activities also can provide even more health benefits.
The review confirms that although aerobic-based activities like running and biking have the greatest health benefit since they stress the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, high-impact weight bearing activities can benefit kids’ bones.
Although children and parents know it’s vital to incorporate physical activity into their lives, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. That’s why I’m excited about the new ‘For the Love of Play’ campaign.
Launched by Fuel Up to Play 60, the nation’s largest in-school wellness program created by the National Football League and National Dairy Council and in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just the name of the campaign makes being active and fit sound fun and not like a chore that must be done. The goal of the campaign is to encourage not just children, but parents, teachers, and really everyone to get up, get active, and play for at least 60 minutes a day.
The campaign has enlisted the support of Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the New York Giants. I had the pleasure of speaking with Cruz about his own experience and thoughts about getting and staying fit. And who knew he could hula hoop?! Even more reason to love him! Here are some highlights from our interview:
EZ: What are some activities you enjoyed most as a kid?
VC: I grew up on a one-way block, along with seven boys who were all my age. I loved so many sports, and together, my friends and I played everything: dodgeball, baseball, wall ball, basketball, and of course football!
EZ: I read that when you were in college, you—like many student athletes—struggled balancing football with your academic studies. What helped you overcome that, and what would you tell kids who want to succeed both on and off the field/court?
VC: I always say to each his own. We each have our own goals. The key is to take advantage of your talents and passions when you’re young, and to learn to manage your time. You’re only young once, so it’s important to look at the big picture and decide what your goals are and how you’re going to achieve them whether that’s playing a specific sport competitively or studying for a specific career. Sometimes you’ll have to make choices and decisions—like choosing to study that extra hour instead of seeing friends. But if you stay true to yourself and learn to budget your time, and cut back if what you’re doing stresses you out too much, it’ll all work out in the end.
EZ: What are some physical activities you enjoy doing with your daughter?
VC: I spend a lot of time with my daughter and my nephews playing basketball, dancing, walking, or just jumping around. Even in the winter, when it snows, we play football and make snow men. And my daughter loves to make angels in the snow. No matter what the weather, we find something to do to stay active and have fun at the same time.
EZ: What’s your advice for children or adults who get sidelined with injury and can’t be as active as they’d like?
VC: Even if you’re hurt, there are different ways you can move to stay in shape and get some physical activity in. For example, if you hurt your arm, you can still workout your legs, do calisthenics, or walk outside or on a treadmill. Even if you’re sad or distraught by your injury, it’s important to try to continue your passion to lead an active life to stay ahead of the curve and competition (especially if you’re a competitive athlete). You also need to tell the negative voices in your head to stay positive and to keep positive people around you as you heal.
EZ: What excited you about the ‘For the Love of Play’ campaign?
VC: I wanted to get involved because I love helping kids get active. When I was young, I played a ton—mostly outside. Of course that was before video games, which now keep kids inside and on the couch. As a kid, I always wanted to get outside and play—and play hard. So this campaign is a perfect fit for me and gives me a great opportunity to encourage kids and the adults who care for them to get out and play for a total of 60 minutes a day at school, at home, and everywhere in between.
EZ: What are some perks (besides the obvious!) that you’ve derived from being active?
VC: Being active helps me feel more focused and provides me with a positive jump start to my day. Staying active keeps my body in line, and is a catalyst that makes me want to take care of my body and live a healthy lifestyle. It makes me want to not only put positive things (like healthy foods) into my body, but to put out positivity to the rest of the world.
Students, parents, and educators can get more information and learn more about ‘For the Love of Play’ campaign and how to participate in the #LoveOfPlay social media sweepstakes for a chance to win NFL prizes by visitingFuel Up to Play 60.
Check out my previous Scoop on Food post, 11 Tips to Nourish Active Kids, here.
How do you and your kids/students stay fit?
Image of Victor Cruz hula hooping via Greg Tietell.
With the Sochi Olympics in full swing, what better time to provide top tips from a few nutrition pros to help active kids meet their nutrient needs?
Although a 2013 JAMA Pediatricsstudy that looked at national survey data of more than 1200 children aged 6 to 11 found that 70% of them met federal Physical Activity Guidelines—at least 60 minutes daily of moderate- to vigorous intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking or running)—you likely have or know plenty of kids who spend more than seven hours a week participating in organized sports and other competitive activities including ranging from basketball, baseball, crew, soccer, dance and swimming to gymnastics, cheerleading, wrestling, tennis and squash.
While all this activity is great for our kids’ hearts and other muscles, staying fueled and energized with nutritious foods and beverages is essential to help them perform their best—not only on the field or on the court, but in the classroom too. As sports nutritionist Tara Gidus says, “You wouldn’t think of letting your kids play football without a helmet, right? Just like they need the right equipment on the field, they need the right nutrition to support their activities on and off the field.”
Whether your kids are going for gold, or simply engaging in various physical activities for the fun of it, here are 11 tips from Gidus and five other top RDs to help them nourish their active lifestyles.
Batter up with breakfast. While it may sound cliché, children who eat breakfast get better nutrition overall than those who skip this vital first meal. Eating a nutritious and filling breakfast may also help kids keep their cool even when other players, parents, coaches or referees lose theirs. If you’re short on ideas beyond that usual bowl of cereal, here are 20 breakfast ideas.
Eat like a champ. Kids can fuel their active muscles well beyond breakfast by having lunches and dinners that provide carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Some ideas for lunch and dinner include a turkey breast sandwich on whole grain bread with avocado, sliced and spread (or a bit of mayonnaise) and a piece of fruit or half the sandwich with a bowl of low-sodium vegetable soup; peanut butter and jelly on whole-wheat bread, a banana and cup of nonfat milk; cold pasta salad with deli turkey slices; whole-wheat pasta with lean beef meatballs and marinara sauce; or salmon served with quinoa and spinach.
Power up with produce. Eating fruits and vegetables boosts kids’ immune systems to help them stay healthy and active. Let them pick out a few of their favorites—like carrots, broccoli, asparagus, grapes, watermelon, strawberries or bananas—each week at the grocery store, and offer small amounts of these and others you buy at each meal and snack. Getting kids involved in grocery shopping and giving them a say empowers them, helps them take ownership of what they eat and also helps them meet their daily quota for produce.
Snack smart. Like meals, snacks should provide carbohydrate—the main energy kids’ brains and body needs—and some healthy fat and protein. Examples include whole-grain graham crackers with peanut butter; an apple or other fruit of choice with low-fat string cheese; reduced or low fat cottage cheese topped with cinnamon and chopped pears; cucumbers with hummus, nuts (like cashews or almonds) and a clementine; Pistachio Chewy Bites (a combination of whole pistachios and dried cranberries); or a container of low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt, a natural beef jerky and a piece of fruit (like watermelon or an apple). Fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit also work well in snack-time smoothies.
Change the rules after school. Calling an “afternoon snack” a “second lunch” instead can help kids think more about having a sandwich, burrito, bowl of cereal, hummus and carrots on pita or other “real food.” It can also reduce their intake of so-called snack foods like candy, chips and cookies. Having a hearty second lunch can also help kids be less hungry for dinner—but that’s OK because they’ll be better fueled when they need it most for afternoon play and sports.
Milk it after practice. Low fat flavored milk—like Organic chocolate milk—has a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein; that makes it a smart choice for athletes recovering from a long practice or event. Shelf-stable single serving portions are available and make a great recovery beverage within 30 minutes of practice or competition.
Move meals. Don’t be afraid to move mealtimes. Young athletes spend the entire day in school and often come home hungry. Rather than waiting until 6 PM for a full meal, consider moving mealtime to earlier in the day. Depending on the age of the child, kids often benefit from two dinners—one after school and one three or four hours later.
Don’t forget fluids. It’s always key to make sure active kids stay hydrated throughout the day. Send your child to school or sports with a water bottle. If you know they’ll be playing for more than an hour or hour and a half, it’s OK to give them a sports drink to prevent dehydration and providing essential electrolytes. The fluid paired with the fuel from food will keep them hydrated and energized.
Make a mini-cooler a must. Young athletes are often on the go; that means food is as well. Think of a mini cooler as part of your equipment and make sure the kids have one to take to practice and to sporting events to help them stay nourished and at the same time keep food safe for consumption.
Boost their energy at half time. To nourish, hydrate and cool off sweaty kids, offer orange slices, grapes and/or strawberries at half time. Or they can sip on a water bottle with fruits like orange slices, cut strawberries, and raspberries throughout the game.
Fuel often—but not excessively. It’s important to keep kids fueled at regular intervals. Because many children, especially younger ones, get so engaged in what they are doing and don’t always want to stop to eat, it’s important to build in breaks to refuel. At the same time, parents should be mindful about how much kids are eating in relation to their activity level. It’s easy to think that kids need a lot more calories if they’re being active, but unless kids are participating in competitive athletics for several hours on most days, most kids take in enough calories during the day to offset their exercise.
When I was a kid, ‘screen time’ referred to time spent perched in front of a TV set watching shows like The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, Three’s Company and The Love Boat. Back then—before remote controls became commonplace—we actually had to get up off our rears to change channels. Today’s kids couldn’t even imagine that!
Remote controls aside, today’s kids are technologically spoiled. Between laptops, desktops, ipads, itouches, iphones, kindles, and nooks to name a few, access to TV shows, movies, videos and video games is literally just a click away. This increased use of, and reliance on, technology has become such a part of our culture that it’s become commonplace to see even a one or two year-old playing with—sometimes even knowing how to use—an ipad or a similar device.
But is this fast pass to all things ‘screen’ a good thing, or will it ultimately prove to diminish children’s overall physical and mental health and well-being?
Although we don’t really know kids’ actual daily screen use, a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Study estimates that eight to 18 year olds spend about 7.5 hours a daily watching TV and movies, and using computers, video games and cell phones. In contrast, new recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) call for less than two hours of screen time daily for children aged two and older, and no screen time for those younger than two years old.
A recent study published in Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism found that watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer was positively associated with waist circumference and negatively associated with HDL (good) cholesterol levels among eight to 10 year-old children. Previous studies suggest that prolonged TV viewing increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. More TV time has also been linked with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, lower energy expenditure, and excess intake of high calorie, high fat food. Research cited in the AAP’s new policy statement also suggests that increased TV use may lead to decreased school achievement, and that overstimulation from screens may contribute to behavioral or sleep problems and even eating disorders.
To determine how viewing TV compares to using other devices, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital used a new research method to track moment-by-moment use of electronic media by young people. They found that paying attention to TV is strongly associated with higher Body Mass Index (BMI). Surprisingly, they found no link between BMI and attention to video games or computers, despite how long they were used by kids. In a press release for the study published in Pediatrics, the lead author said, “The association between TV and increased BMI may be explained by exposure to TV ads for high calorie, nutritionally questionable foods, and eating while watching TV, which distracts from natural signals the body gives for when it is hungry or satisfied.”
Only time will tell how all this screen time will affect kids’ physical and psychological growth and development. For now, it’s prudent for us parents to set limits on tv and all other screen use and to encourage our kids to carve out time—after school, on weekends and when they’re off from school—to be more physically active. In our home, we recently signed an agreement to put our phones (itouch in the case of our fifth grader) on the kitchen counter between 6 and 8:30 pm each night on nights that we are home. This allows for us to connect and minimize distraction while doing homework or working on projects. So far, so good.
You’ll find some great ideas from We Can! to limit your family’s screen time here. You can also fill out this We Can! Screen Time Chart to see how different family members compare in terms of screen time. The results may surprise you!
How do you monitor/limit screen time in your home?