Keeping kids bones healthy

Children and bone strength and health.

We know feeding our children healthy foods and encouraging physical activity is important, but we may not think about how good nutrition effects bone health. Adopting good nutrition and lifestyle habits during childhood helps to prevent osteoporosis and fractures in the future. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become less dense and more prone to fractures. Bone mass attained during childhood and adolescence is important to lifelong skeletal health. As children grow, their old bone tissue is constantly changing and being replaced with new bone. For most people, the amount of bone mass peaks by their late twenties. Up to 90 percent of bone mass is reached by age 18 in girls and age 20 in boys.

One of the best ways to encourage healthy eating and physical activity is for parents to be role models for their children. Research has shown that active children have active parents. Purchasing and eating plenty of foods rich in calcium and vitamin D will help ensure strong bones. Calcium is found in many foods, the most common being milk and dairy products. One eight ounce glass of milk provides 300 milligrams of calcium, besides several other minerals and vitamins needed for a healthy body.

Weight bearing activities such as walking, running, hiking, dancing, tennis, basketball, gymnastics and soccer all contribute to building healthy bones. Swimming and bicycling are great activities for general health, but are not weight-bearing and do not contribute to bone density.

Children and adolescents do not tend to think much about their health. They rarely make decisions based on what is good for them. The best way to help your children develop healthy habits is to incorporate calcium rich foods into family meals, serve fat-free or low-fat milk with snacks and meals, limit access to soft drinks and to help kids find a variety of physical activities and sports they enjoy. Michigan State University Extension 4-H programs offer many sports and nutrition clubs for youth in local communities.

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