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Bone Health for Children


Bone Health for Children

By the time you are in your early 20s, you have reached your peak in bone mass development. After this age you can expect a slow and steady decline to occur each year.

By the time you are in your early 20s, you have reached your peak in bone mass development. After this age you can expect a slow and steady decline to occur each year.

It is estimated that girls reach their bone mass peak as early as age 18, while boys attain their bone mass peak at age 20. Therefore, building strong bones in your youth is particularly important. In fact, the bone mass that you develop in early childhood and adolescence is a powerful preventive tool against osteoporosis, a disease that currently affects over 30 million North Americans and causes bones to become less dense and prone to fractures.

Making and Breaking

Osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease, has been called a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences. In other words, because the bone mass attained in childhood is a predictor of skeletal health, early dietary and lifestyle habits can make or literally break bones in later years. Throughout life, the constant breakdown and buildup of bone mass in the body is a normal cellular process. Cells called osteoblasts lay down new bone mass while cells called osteoclasts break down bone. In our younger years, osteoblastic activity is higher and more bone is produced than lost. As we age and experience hormonal changes in menopause, make poor nutritional choices, smoke, drink alcohol, or fail to get adequate exercise, osteoclastic activity rises and more bone is lost than laid down.

Calcium Connection

There are several ways you can ensure optimal bone development. For starters, stock your cupboard with calcium-rich foods including dairy products such as yogourt, calcium-fortified soymilk or orange juice, almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, broccoli, canned salmon (with bones), and legumes and greens such as kale, bok choy, turnip greens, and mustard greens. Calcium supplements are also available for children in liquid, chewable, or capsule form if there is a risk of calcium deficiency.

D Direct From the Sun

A deficiency of vitamin D can also be a factor in poor bone development. One of vitamin D’s roles is to increases calcium absorption in the body. In fact, blood levels of vitamin D are directly related to the strength of bones. It can be difficult for children to get enough vitamin D from food sources such as egg yolks, fatty fish, or fortified margarine, milk, or soymilk.

Unfortunately, because we use sunscreens and live in a land with limited sunshine during the winter months, vitamin D exposure and absorption can be limited. One of the best ways for your child to absorb vitamin D is to allow them to be exposed to the sun’s UVB rays for 15 minutes per day on their hands and feet. A high quality multivitamin for your child can also provide vitamin D to increase calcium absorption.

Go Green

In addition to calcium and vitamin D, recent research at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto has suggested that supplementing with foods rich in polyphenols stimulated cells that were responsible for bone formation. Polyphenols are natural plant chemicals responsible for giving fruits colours such as blue, green, purple, and violet. Polyphenol-rich sources include berries, apples, and green tea. The study also found that supplementing the diet with a green food powder (available in most health food stores) also provided the same benefits in terms of bone-building activity.

Additional tips to implement to ensure life-long bone health for your children:

  • Limit their consumption of soft drinks. Studies demonstrate that people who consume soft drinks have an increased incidence of bone fractures.
  • Emphasize the importance of being a nonsmoker. Smoking has been shown to increase the risk of bone loss.
  • Encourage your children to exercise. The more weight-bearing exercise they do, the stronger their bones will get. The best types of exercise for bone development include walking, running, hiking, dancing, tennis, basketball, gymnastics, and soccer.

Although rarely thought about until later in life, bone health is actually an area that needs attention in the early years. By focusing on increasing your child’s bone mass to peak capacity at an early age, you will be providing them with the lifelong gift of skeletal health.



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