Nutrition and Fitness for a Lifetime of Health – Part 5
As I noted in my last four blog posts, proper nutrition is important throughout life, but children have special nutritional needs. Children grow faster during their first few years than at any other time in their lives, and this rapid growth dramatically increases their nutritional needs. Although specific nutrient needs vary throughout the different stages of life, there is probably no more critical time for optimal nutrition than during childhood. Topics I’ve covered so far have been 1) proper nutrition and fitness, 2) how to establish healthful eating habits, 3) filling the nutritional gaps with dietary supplements and 4) fostering active children, and 5) Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Children’s Health. Today, let’s learn about how importan it is to Start Early to Build Strong Bones!
When it comes to concerns about your child’s health, helping them to have strong bones may not be at the top of your list, but it should be.
Building strong bones by adopting healthy nutritional and lifestyle habits in early childhood is critically important in helping to prevent osteoporosis later in life. Osteoporosis, a condition of thinned bones that are prone to fractures, has been called “a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences” because the bone mass attained during childhood and adolescence is the most important determinant of long-term skeletal health.
In other words, the eating habits, activity levels, and supplement usage of your kids today may very well make or break their bones as they age.
Building the Bone Bank
Bone is living tissue with continuous remodeling occurring throughout life, with a balance between bone formation and bone resorption.[i] This critical balance between the breakdown and formation of bone changes as we age. During childhood, there is a higher amount of bone formation than bone breakdown and, thus, it is during this critical time that your child’s bones increase in both size and density. In fact, by the time girls reach age 18 and boys reach age 20, up to 90% of peak bone mass has been acquired.[ii]
Once we reach our 30s, the rate of bone breakdown and formation are relatively equal—although there is still an ongoing remodeling of bone that requires the support of all bone nutrients. At menopause (for women) and beginning in the 60s (for most men), bone breakdown exceeds bone formation, which can result in loss of bone mass. The first five years after menopause are the most critical for potential loss of bone density and the development of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Because your child is going to achieve most if not all of their peak bone mass by age 20, what they do in childhood, adolescence, and the teen years is critically important for their long-term bone health.
What Are the Essential Nutrients for Strong Bones?
Many nutrients play a role in proper bone development.
- Calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium all are incorporated into and form the matrix of bone
- Zinc, copper, and manganese are trace minerals that serve as catalysts for metabolic reactions involved in building bone
- Vitamin D assists with the intestinal absorption of calcium; and vitamin K assists in the creation and proper function of a protein produced by bone-forming cells during bone matrix formation
Although all are essential to developing strong bones, the two nutrients of particular concern for growing infants and children are calcium and vitamin D.
Physical Activity and Bone Strength
Building strong bones during childhood and optimizing bone health throughout life involves not only getting one’s daily requirement for all bone health nutrients, but it also entails getting regular exercise.
Exercise, specifically “weight- bearing” activities such as jumping rope, walking, dancing, and playing organized sports (e.g. gymnastics, basketball, soccer, and hockey) stimulate bone-building cells, which ultimately will help increase bone size and mass.
Therefore, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to encourage your children to participate in weight-bearing activity for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week.
Optimizing Bone Health with Supplementation
Helping children build strong bones and healthy teeth and gums starts early. Parents should begin by offering and making available a variety of healthful food choices rich in essential bone-health nutrients, paying special attention to calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese, as well as vitamins D and K.
Dairy products provide the best source of calcium, and many of the other bone-health nutrients can be found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, dark-green vegetables, lean meats, poultry, and seafood. However, because national surveys consistently show that most children fail to achieve the recommended intake of calcium or vitamin D, parents are making a wise decision by providing their children with a comprehensive multivitamin that contains at least 400 IU to 600 IU of vitamin D, 200 mg of calcium, as well as the other nutrients listed above to add to the nutrients already being provided in their diets.
Give your child the best chance to achieve optimal bone mass during one of the most critical periods in life by investing now in your child’s bone health. Not only will you be helping them to keep their bones strong, but you’ll be helping them to reduce their risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.