For their bones’ sake, kids and teens need to get more calcium, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Three daily servings of calcium will do the job for kids aged 4 to 8 years; four daily servings will work for adolescents. So says a report by the AAP’s Committee on Nutrition.
To build strong bones, kids and teens should also get weight-bearing exercise (such as running or jumping rope) and not binge on soft drinks or fruit drinks, according to the report, which appears in Pediatrics.
Grown-ups aren’t off the hook, either. Children often copy their parents, so the whole family needs to board the calcium bandwagon, the committee notes. Of course, adults also need calcium for their own bones.
Doctors serving on the committee included Frank Greer, MD, and Nancy Krebs, MD. Greer is a pediatrics professor at the University of Wisconsin’s medical school. Krebs is a pediatrics professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
Falling Short on Calcium
Most kids and teens get too little calcium, states the AAP. That shortfall can have long-term consequences.
Young bones have a big job ahead of them. They’ve got to get as strong as possible, so that decades later, they’re less likely to break or become too thin, a condition called osteoporosis.
Adolescence is a crucial time for bones. During that time, bone mass is supposed to skyrocket. But many youths trade milk for soft drinks or other beverages, winding up with too little calcium.
Dairy products are the leading source of dietary calcium for most people, says the AAP, adding that alternatives (including supplements and fortified foods) are available for people who can’t tolerate or choose not to consume dairy products.
“Drinking three 8-ounce glasses of milk per day (or the equivalent) will achieve the recommended adequate intake of calcium in children 4 to 8 years of age,” states the report.
“Four 8- to 10-ounce glasses of milk (or the equivalent) will provide the adequate calcium intake for adolescents,” the report continues.
During the first year of life, human milk is the best calcium source, says the AAP. The AAP doesn’t recommend whole milk for babies less than 1 year old, but yogurt and cheese can be introduced after babies are 6 months old, says the AAP.
Yogurt and cheese are also good sources of calcium for older kids (and adults). Nondairy options include fortified foods (like some breakfast cereals, orange juices, apple juices, and soy drinks). Broccoli and collard greens also contain calcium, but you’d have to eat a lot of those vegetables to meet calcium goals, says the AAP.
Other advice from the report:
Spread calcium out across the day; don’t try to get it all at one meal. Don’t forget about vitamin D and other nutrients that are also important for bone health.
The AAP also recommends that doctors ask parents about kids’ calcium intake at least three times: when children are 2 or 3 years old and are no longer drinking formula or breast milk, at age 8 or 9, and during early adolescence.
By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
SOURCES: Greer, F. Pediatrics, February 2006; vol 117: pp 578-585. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.