Children’s bone health

Additional bone health topics for other ages can be found here:

Building bone in infancy (ages 0-3)

Infancy is the period of most rapid skeletal growth, and even at this early stage, environmental influences can make a difference. Inadequate prenatal nutrition can lead to low birthweight infants born with low bone mass. Studies also show that infants breastfed three or more months have greater bone mineral density than those not breastfed or breastfed for less than three months. Even early exposure to secondhand smoke can leave children with a tendency to later experience decreased peak bone mass.

To give their babies’ bones a good start, pregnant women and mothers can:

  • Eat well during pregnancy and, if of normal weight, gain 25-35 pounds (e.g., mothers with better vitamin D and calcium status give birth to infants with stronger bones).
  • Avoid toxins and distress during pregnancy, especially cigarette smoking.
  • Breastfeed their infants as long as possible.

Building bone in childhood and early adolescence (ages 4-12)

Children who are physically active and exposed to sunlight have stronger bones and build higher peak bone mass. Early childhood is accompanied by a slowing in the bone growth rate, which reverses with the well-recognized adolescent growth spurt, when about half of peak adult bone mass is accumulated. During the period immediately before and after puberty, known as peri-puberty, bones are particularly responsive to mechanical loading. Thus, if children are physically active, the skeleton adapts by growing stronger and denser. Even just a few years later, improvements in bone-mineral density are much more difficult to achieve. Taking advantage of this peri-puberty window of opportunity can make the difference between lifelong healthy bones and crippling osteoporosis in later life.

A child’s body is also especially responsive to the benefits of supernutrition — and vulnerable to penalties of undernutrition. Bone mineral density in children and young teens is directly related to their intake of the key bone-building nutrients like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C and D. Adolescents who consume the RDA of calcium have better bone mineral density than those who consume less, while those consuming a few hundred milligrams more than the RDA for calcium exhibit even greater bone-mineral density. Given these facts, experts now recommend that children consume higher than RDA levels of calcium. Today, however, only 10% of girls and 25% of boys in the US meet even the lower RDA for calcium.

Parents and caregivers can help children build strong bones by:

  • Encouraging rigorous outdoor exercise each day.
  • Introducing fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts in abundance.
  • Delaying and limiting exposure to sugar and processed foods.
  • In early adolescence, considering the use of a multivitamin/mineral and additional calcium and magnesium as needed.

Please click here for information on bone health at any age.

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