Importance of calcium during childhood

Calcium is an essential building block of bones and teeth and is vital during childhood when the skeleton is actively growing. It also plays a key role in many functions of the body including muscle contraction, blood vessel constriction and relaxation, the secretion of hormones and enzymes, and the nervous system. Our bones hold onto most of the body’s calcium, which must be ‘topped up’ regularly from the diet.

During childhood, the body needs high amounts of calcium to support the development of the skeleton and to achieve maximum bone growth. If a child doesn’t consume enough calcium in their early years it may affect their skeletal health in later life. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 70% of Australian children are not meeting their recommended dietary intake of this important bone building mineral.1 This may be due to dietary limitations such as allergies or intolerance to calcium-rich foods, or because many kids go through periods of fussy eating making it difficult to get the calcium their growing bones need.

How much calcium is enough?

The recommendations for calcium intake throughout childhood are as follows:2

Age Recommended Daily Intake of Calcium
1-3 years 500mg
4-8 years 700mg
9-11 years 1000mg
12-13 years 1300mg

Good sources of calcium

Good sources of calcium for kids include:

  • Milk and milk products – One cup of milk or 200g of yoghurt provide around 300mg of calcium.1
  • Green leafy vegetables – One cup of broccoli contains about 45mg of calcium.1
  • Tofu and soy milk – Calcium-fortified soy milk contains around 300mg of calcium per serve1 and half a cup of tofu, depending on the brand, provides just over 250mg.3
  • Sardines and salmon (with soft edible bones) – Half a cup of canned salmon contains around 400mg of calcium.1
  • Nuts and seeds – Brazil nuts, almonds and unhulled tahini are all good calcium sources. A small handful of almonds provides around 40mg of calcium.1
  • Calcium supplements – A specialised kids calcium supplement may be beneficial to support bone growth in childhood, especially in times of dietary limitations or during periods of fussy eating.

For calcium to be effective in bone growth and development, it’s also important that your child obtains adequate amounts of vitamin D. This can be achieved through sensible sun exposure or by taking a kid’s vitamin D supplement.