You know that kids grow healthy and strong through exercise and proper nutrition, but did you know that childhood is prime time for preventing osteoporosis?
Kids aren’t just getting bigger and taller as they grow. Their bones are also growing stronger, increasing in density. Children continue to make more bone than they lose until their mid-20s. This is the time when they reach peak bone mass, the greatest amount of bone they will ever have. According to the Osteoporosis Foundation, the more bone your child has at the time of peak bone mass the less likely she is to break a bone or develop osteoporosis later in life.
Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” It occurs when we lose too much bone, do not create enough bone, or both. Low bone density increases a person’s risk of fractures. While it is most common in women, men also can develop osteoporosis.
Use the following recommendations to build strong bones and develop habits that will keep your kids growing strong throughout their teens and into adulthood.
• Provide foods high in calcium such as low-fat cheese, yogurt and milk fortified with vitamin D.
• Serve a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables which are high in calcium.
• Limit soft drinks. Children who consume soft drinks are less likely to drink milk or calcium-rich alternatives. Offer milk or calcium-added non-dairy beverages at meals.
• Make homemade popsicles from calcium-fortified orange juice.
• Weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones as well as muscles. The Centers for Disease Control recommends children participate in bone-building activities such as jumping rope, running, or climbing on a jungle gym at least three days per week. Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
• Encourage your child to participate in sports.
• Limit periods of inactivity. Take a break from TV, video games, even reading and homework. Sunlight is an important source of bone-strengthening vitamin D, so head outside to be active.
• Run, jump and play as a family. Go for a walk or jog together. Jump rope, play kickball, soccer or basketball.
• Hold wheelbarrow races in the backyard. Have your child start in a push-up position. Hold her feet in your hands like the handles of a wheelbarrow as she walks or runs on her hands to the finish line.
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• Educate your children on the dangers of smoking and of drinking alcohol. Both increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Calcium Minus the Cow:
Calcium builds and maintains strong bones and teeth, but what if your kids don’t eat or drink dairy products? In addition to a calcium supplement, the USDA recommends these high-calcium foods to meet children’s daily needs. (1,000mg for ages 4-8; 1,300mg for children 9-19.)
• Calcium-fortified beverages: Juice and soymilk with 30% of the RDA per cup.
• Tofu: prepared with calcium sulfate.
• Legumes: Edamame soybeans, black-eyed peas and white beans.
• Leafy green vegetables: Turnip, mustard or collard greens, bok choi, kale and broccoli.
• Canned fish: Sardines and salmon eaten with the bones.
• Black-strap molasses: 2 tablespoons contain a whopping 400mg of calcium.
For a bone-building boost add calcium-rich foods to your child’s favorite smoothie recipe. Try tofu, molasses, a stalk of kale or calcium-fortified almond milk. At snack time, offer dried figs (up to 55mg in two) and almonds. Sprinkle sesame seeds on favorite foods.
Heather Lee Leap is a freelance writer focusing on parenting and health issues. Her mother’s recent diagnosis of advanced osteoporosis inspired her to learn more about osteoporosis to protect herself and her daughters.