Reversing the Calcium Crisis in our Youth
Calcium is critical to the physical structure and healthy functioning of the human body. It is necessary for transmitting nerve impulses and regulating muscle contraction. Calcium is the primary mineral in your body that makes up your bones and keeps them strong. Ninety percent of the human body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. The need for calcium starts with infancy and continues throughout one’s life. If your diet is deficient in calcium, your body will take what it needs from your bones. The result, osteoporosis, is a reduction in bone density that leaves bones more porous, fragile, and susceptible to fractures.
Children are not getting enough calcium in their diet, in large part because they drink soda instead of milk. Drinking soda adversely affects calcium absorption. The phosphoric acid in soda neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in your stomach, which then adversely affects digestion and the body’s ability to absorb calcium. In the United States, children have traditionally consumed much of their calcium from milk. But children are drinking less milk and school purchases reflect this trend. From 1985 to 1997, school districts decreased the amount of milk they bought by nearly 30% and increased purchases of soda by 1,100%. Today in fact, 56% to 85% of school age children consume at least one soft drink daily.
Unfortunately, the problem extends beyond young children. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 13.5% of girls and 36.3% of boys age 12 to 19 in the United States get the recommended daily amount of calcium, placing them at serious risk for osteoporosis and other bone diseases. A recent study from Harvard University reported that teenage girls who drink soda were three times more likely to have a bone fracture than girls who do not, and that physically active girls who drink cola beverages were five times more likely to have had a bone fracture. Compounding this situation is the fact that nearly 90% of adult bone mass is established by 20 years of age. It would seem the nation’s youth are in the midst of a calcium crisis.
Here are several ways to help avoid calcium loss in children:
- Children should drink plain water instead of soft drinks. It is recommended that they drink one quart of water for every 50 pounds of body weight.
- Decrease soda consumption gradually. If a teenager is drinking three cans a day, start by reducing the amount to two cans per day for the first week, one can per day the second week, and so on. Experiment with different bottled and flavoured waters for variety.
- Children should drink at least two glasses of low-fat or fat-free milk a day. If they have lactose intolerance, use soy or calcium fortified rice milk. Below is a list of common sources of calcium rich foods. Read foods labels and compare calcium content in foods.
- Encourage children to eat a diet rich in calcium. Dairy products are a good source of calcium and contribute to a large percentage of our dietary calcium. Below is a list of common sources of calcium rich foods. Read foods labels and compare calcium content in foods.
- If children are unable to consume dairy products, or if their calcium intake is low for other reasons, they might benefit from calcium with vitamin D supplements. Consult your doctor for more details.
The following list is the recommended daily intake for calcium by The National Institutes of Health:
|Infants (0-12 months)
|Children (1 -10 years)
and young adults
What are some strategies for change?
Sources of Calcium-Rich Food
|This list is to be used as a source guide only and not as an endorsement of any particular product. Brands and sizes differ regionally. Check food labels for calcium per serving size.
|Â½ – 1 cup
|2% milk shredded cheese
|Orange juice with calcium
|Soy milk with calcium
|Milk, all types
|Nonfat dry milk
|Fat-free frozen yogurt
|Tofu with calcium
|Part-skim mozzarella cheese sticks
|Spinach, frozen (cooked)
|Oatmeal (instant or microwave)
|Mustard greens, frozen (cooked)
|Broccoli, frozen (cooked)