Bone health basics for kids

Childhood and adolescence is the biggest opportunity to build strong and healthy bones for life. For most people, 90% of peak bone density is achieved by the age of 18 in girls and 20 in boys,1 which is why it is extremely important for growing kids to develop healthy bone behaviours early. The two most important lifelong health habits to encourage, are proper nutrition and regular exercise, in particular, adequate calcium, vitamin D and weight‐bearing activity.

Calcium

Calcium is required for the normal development and maintenance of bones and teeth, and is especially important during periods of rapid growth in young children and teenagers. However, it is estimated that 70% of children are not meeting their recommended daily intake of calcium.2 To increase your child’s calcium consumption:

  • Include dairy products in their diet every day. Good sources include milk, yoghurt and cheese. If they are lactose intolerant, choose calcium‐fortified dairy free alternatives.
  • Serve green leafy vegetables with dinner such as broccoli, bok choy or spinach.
  • Sprinkle sesame seeds over stir‐fries or salads.
  • Include tinned salmon or sardines containing soft edible bones in their diet if they are an appropriate age to chew bones safely. Half a cup of canned salmon contains more than half of the daily calcium requirements for kids between the ages of 4 and 8.2
  • Replace meat with tofu at least once a week as it is a good calcium source.2

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption and is important for forming and maintaining strong bones. Adequate vitamin D in kids can be achieved through sensible sunlight exposure or through vitamin D supplements. Instances when children would benefit from supplementation include if a child has very dark skin or those who have little or no exposure to the sun for various reasons.

Weight‐bearing exercise

Just like our muscles, bones get stronger when we use them. Any type of physical activity is great for kids but weight‐bearing exercise is the best for bones.1 The most important factor for your child is to spend less time sitting and more time being active whether through organised sports such as soccer, tennis, gymnastics, basketball, netball or dancing, or through day to day activities like throwing a frisbee in the park, walking the dog, going skateboarding or jumping rope.