Motivating Calcium Intake in Children

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Osteoporosis, or thinning bones, is responsible for over 1.5 million fractures each year. More than half of all Americans over 50 years of age experience osteoporosis-related bone fractures, which can lead to long-term pain and impaired mobility. Health care costs associated with these fractures exceed $20 billion every year.

Consuming calcium during adolescence—when the body is most able to absorb and retaincalcium—helps build up bone mass and density, ensuring strong, healthy bones later in life. However, calcium consumption among adolescents nationwide is less than desirable. Girls and boys ages 9 to 18 consume only 60% to 80% of the recommended 1,300 milligrams (roughly three servings from the milk, yogurt, and cheese food group) per day. Among adolescents, milk is increasingly replaced with soda, juices, and sports drinks.

Some adolescents, particularly girls, may limit—or eliminate—milk in their diets because of the perception that dairy products are fattening. Family factors in, too. Parents’ knowledge about nutrition, parents’ consumption of milk, and availability of calcium-rich foods in the home also play a large role in how much calcium youth consume. Because eating habits formed early in life often continue throughout adulthood, programs intended to boost calcium intake must engage parents.

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