New Guidelines for Strong Bones

Adequate calcium intake can prevent fractures and osteoporosis later in life.

March 1, 2006 -- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a report with new recommendations for building strong bones in children, including three servings a day of dairy products, adequate Vitamin D intake, and even weight training for teenagers. The report stresses a new reason to ensure your child's bone strength: it can reduce the risks of bone fractures, breaks, and osteoporosis in adulthood.

Bone mass is critical for children ages 8 and up, and of special importance during adolescence. To reach optimal bone mass, the AAP recommends that children:

  • Maintain an adequate intake of calcium with three age-appropriate servings of dairy products per day (4 servings per day for adolescents). Low-fat dairy products, including skim milk and low-fat cheeses, are preferred over higher-fat products. Most older children and adolescents in the United States currently do not achieve the recommended intake of calcium, according to the AAP.
  • Add Vitamin-D-rich foods to your child's diet, as it helps with calcium retention. Vitamin D can also be found in many dairy products, as well as in fish and fortified cereals.
  • Begin weight training as teenagers. In addition to the recommended calcium and Vitamin D intake for all children, the AAP encourages introducing weight-bearing exercise during teen years in order to help build strong bones and set a precedent for a lifetime of weight training.

The AAP warns that it's important for parents to be aware that calcium intake listings on food labels are based on adult requirements -- not children's. As a result, parents are encouraged to speak to their child's pediatrician during well-baby visits to ensure that their child is getting the proper amount of calcium in his diet.

The report also recommends that pediatricians periodically assess their patients' calcium intake with a simple questionnaire beginning at 2 to 3 years of age.

Despite the calcium recommendations, it's important to remember that milk should not be given to babies under 12 months of age, and yogurt and cheese should not be introduced until around 6 months of age. Infants in this age group will be getting adequate amounts of calcium from breast milk or formula.

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