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Nutritionists Go Head to Head continued...

"There is a clear positive link between calcium and dairy and good bone health," Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD, tells WebMD. "No one food is a magic bullet for preventing osteoporosis, but including calcium in the diet has been shown to be helpful down the road. It is part of an overall healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity."

Segrave-Daly says the studies reviewed by Lanou and colleagues paint an incomplete picture of the science regarding calcium and strong bones.

Dairy: More Than Calcium

But Wisconsin pediatrician Frank Greer, MD, says the science is not as clear as the dairy group suggests.

On its web site, the Dairy Council cites reviews done by its own researchers showing an overwhelmingly positive association between eating calcium-rich foods and bone health.

"(Studies) indicate that milk intake during childhood and adolescence is associated with greater bone mass and protection against fractures in later years," the Dairy Council's bone health summary states.

Greer tells WebMD it is not clear if calcium intake during childhood and adolescence has a long-term impact on bone health.

"The thinking has been that if bone mineral density is as high as possible in adolescence then that will help protect against osteoporosis when someone is 65," he says. "But we really don't know if that is the case."

Greer says physical activity may be more important for promoting good bone health than calcium intake. Heredity may be the most important single predictor of all.

"No one can tell you unequivocally which of these three things is most important for preventing osteoporosis," he says. "It is not clear if calcium intake in early life influences bone density in women with strong hereditary risk factors."

But Greer says he supports the new government guidelines calling on Americans to drink more milk. He even serves as the American Academy of Pediatrics representative for the Dairy Council's "3-A-Day for Stronger Bones" campaign.

"You get a lot more from dairy products than just calcium," he says. "It is our major source of vitamin D in the diet and a good source of vitamin A and potassium. We know that children and adolescents are drinking a lot more soda than milk, so anything we can do to change that would be a good thing."

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