Helping Teenagers Build Strong Bones
Drink milk to help your bones!
Teenagers, both boys and girls, are in the prime position to look after the future of their bones. At this stage of their life, many aspects of their bodies are changing rapidly - and bone density is no different.
A diet rich is calcium and plenty of weight bearing exercise helps ensure that bone density growth is maximised, providing them with the best chance to prevent osteoporosis later in life. But although most adults are aware of the need for calcium and exercise, many teenagers shun the facts and don't adequately exercise or consume enough calcium.
Read on to find out some of the reasons why and how you can help encourage them to act now.
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Why is calcium so important for teenagers?
During the teen years, bone density is built up to its maximum level. According to CalorieKing.com.au dietitian Allan Borushek, "By age 16, 80% of peak bone mass is reached." After 30 years of age, a gradual loss of bone begins, decreasing even more rapidly for women during menopause. By age 80, a woman may have lost up to as much as two-thirds of her skeleton!
As each generation of teenagers gets taller, their leg bones are also becoming longer. Now, more than ever, it's important to ensure that these bones are strong enough to support their bodies throughout their lives. Weak, calcium-deficient bones can only lead to problems with hips, pelvises and painful fractures as they age.
The key to preventing osteoporosis and other problems later in life is to build strong, healthy bones in the teenage years. Although this fact is well known, a CSIRO study has shown that only one out of every three Australian girls is getting the recommended daily intake of calcium.
Factors causing low-calcium intake for teenage girls
Although osteoporosis does affect men, women are at a higher risk. They generally have about 30% less bone than men and experience greater bone loss during menopause when oestrogen levels drop.
So why aren't teenage girls taking more notice of the facts and doing everything they can to prevent these problems? Here are some of the many factors that could be contributing to low calcium intake for teenage girls.
Exercise a key factor
Exercise during the teenage years has been shown to be extremely important in building strong bones.
In a ten-year study, over 80 teenage girls were studied to determine the affects of exercise, calcium intake and oral contraceptives on bone strength. It was found that exercise had the largest impact by far, with those girls who regularly participated in sport having significantly stronger bones. Surprisingly, calcium intake and oral contraceptives were found to have no significant impact on bone growth or density. However, this doesn't mean that calcium intake is not important, with the study researchers quick to point out that teens should not miss out on the benefits of calcium.
These finding are likely to also be applicable to teenage boys, however the study concentrated only on females.
More fruits and vegetables?
Although calcium and exercise are the most beneficial ways to prevent bone loss, a recent study of US girls has shown that eating at least three servings of fruit and vegetables every day can help limit the body's excretion of calcium from the bones.
Even though the study was small and has not produced definitive evidence, the indications are that adding extra fruit and vegetables certainly can't hurt!
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This article was compiled in consultation with CalorieKing.com.au experts and in reference to the following sources:
Allan Borushek's Calorie and Fat Counter 2004 - 'Osteoporosis Guide & Calcium Counter'
CSIRO, 1999, Dairy Foods in the Australian Diet results from the National Nutrition Survey 1995 - 96
Norton, A. 'Fruits and vegetables may strengthen girls' bones.' Reuters Health, 16 March 2004
McKinney, M., 'Exercise boosts teen girls' bones.' Reuters Health, 23 June 2004
'The Latest News in Weight Loss: Eat More Calcium' TUFTS University Health and Nutrition Letter, July 2001
Black, R.E., et al., 'Children who avoid drinking cow milk have low dietary calcium intakes and poor bone health.' American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002, 76:675-80 Cited In: Australian Dairy Corporation Nutrition News, Issue 11, November 2002
Australian Dairy Corporation Nutrition News, Issue 10, September 2002
Last updated: July 19th, 2004
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