Building strong bones in kids
Health and safety

Building strong bones in kids

Find out why building strong bones in kids is crucial for preventing osteoporosis and fractures later in life.

Bone health is important at every age and stage of life. Did you know that your bone structure is your body’s storage facility for calcium?

Bone is a living tissue that is constantly being removed and replaced. Bones need normal sex hormones, calcium, vitamin D, adequate calories, proteins and weight bearing/ strengthening exercise to keep them healthy.

Healthy  bones are like banks

According to the Irish Osteoporosis Society, healthy bones are like banks, the more deposits you make, the more withdrawals you can count on. Your diet plays a key role in ensuring healthy bones. The most important nutrients for bone health are calcium and vitamin D because if you have low levels of vitamin D, your bones will not absorb calcium.

Ireland has seen an increase in cases of osteoporosis with one in five men and one in two women over the age of 50 predicted to develop the disease. With 60% of a person’s bones being laid down between the ages of eight and 20, it’s important to eat as nutritious a diet as possible during this time.

As Prof. O’Brien, president of the Irish Osteoporosis Society explains, “The age of when bones are laid down varies from child to child, but it’s generally when kids get the growth spurt, in puberty and pre-puberty. So a healthy diet is crucial at this stage – children need adequate calories, protein and calcium. Some milks are enriched with Vitamin D – if you don’t drink milk, you can use it to make pancakes or quiches. It’s also important that children eat sufficient protein. People forget that bones are made up of collagen (which is a protein).”

Building strong bones in kids

The building blocks for bone health

While 90% of adult bone is laid down by the age of 17, bone continues to grow in strength up until the mid-thirties. After this, it is natural to lose a small amount of bone each year. This is accelerated in women after the menopause when the protective effect of oestrogen is lost. However, calcium, Vitamin D and regular exercise help to maintain bone strength and minimise bone loss.

Calcium

Calcium is vital for your body as it is a building block of bone tissue. If there is not enough calcium in our diet, calcium is then removed from where it is stored in our bodies which in time causes your bones to become weaker. The Department of Health and Children recommends that children, adults and older people include three servings of calcium-rich foods per day

The easiest way to obtain this is through the regular consumption of milk, cheese and yoghurt, i.e. three servings each day from the milk group of foods. Teenagers and pregnant women need five servings each day.

A serving is equal to:

  • A glass of milk
  • An ounce {matchbox size} of cheese
  •  A carton of yoghurt

According to the Irish Osteoporosis Society, teenagers in particular need five servings of calcium each day to meet the requirement for growth and development. Unfortunately, 75% of teenage girls do not meet their calcium needs.

Other factors that may have a negative effect on bone health at this time include: lack of exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet or some weight loss diets, and eating disorders such as anorexia and/or bulimia.

Excessive consumption of fizzy drinks in teenagers means that healthier more nutritious drinks like milk and juices are often displaced in the diet leading to poor calcium intakes.

The sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium. The best source of this vitamin is sunlight, as the body makes vitamin D through the action of sunlight on the skin, however Ireland’s northerly latitude means we cannot rely on this source, especially in winter.

Sun protection creams also prevent the production of Vitamin D and as a result, dietary sources are becoming more important. Vitamin D is found in eggs, fortified milks and spreads, and oil-rich fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines.

Other foods high in Vitamin D are liver, and chicken liver pâté, as well as some cereals. These should be included regularly, if you are at risk of having low vitamin D levels and are particularly important for older people or those who are house-bound. Vitamin D3 is the preferred form of Vitamin D for babies. It is recommended in Ireland that you give your baby 5mcg of vitamin D3 every day from 0-12 months.

There are formulae specific for infants and they come in liquid form that can be safely given by putting drops of liquid into their mouths. Always check the label or check with your pharmacist for dosage advise.

Osteoporosis and kids

Osteoporosis can develop at any age, including childhood.

According to Prof O’Brien being on steroids medication or having coeliac disease can increase a person’s risk of developing osteoporosis.

Because it’s a silent disease, Prof. O’Brien advises that if there is a strong family history or a child has received treatments that can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, they should have a DEXA scan. This scan is used to measure the density of your bones.

Healthy habits for healthy bones

Building strong bones in kids

1. Eat enough calories

It is important that children consume enough calories during the growth period, as it is vital for developing healthy bones. Prof O’Brien says that eating disorders, which can develop during the teenager years can have a negative impact on bone development.

“If your child is avoiding all milk and dairy products and severely restricting her food intake, she is probably not getting enough calcium. She needs a more balanced diet that includes milk products and other calcium-rich foods. Calcium supplements may also be helpful to ensure that she gets enough of this essential nutrient. You should discuss your concerns with your GP.”

2. Get moving

Children should get at least 30 to 60 minutes of weight-bearing exercise every day. Weight bearing exercise describes any activity you do on your feet that works your bones and muscles against gravity, stimulating growth and therefore strength. Good bone-building exercises include running, brisk walking, aerobics, tennis, skipping, or even running up stairs.

What is osteopenia?

Osteopenia is the early stage of osteoporosis. Having osteopenia places a person at risk of developing osteoporosis. A diagnosis of osteopenia is a warning that you must start taking care of your bones and that prevention methods need to be put in place. The risk factors for developing osteopenia are the same as for osteoporosis

Did you know?

Bones are laid down when a child is in utero. The more bone that gets laid down in childhood, the less risk there is of developing fractures later on.

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ASK LOUISE

Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….

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ASK LOUISE

Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….