Oct. 15 2001 -- Like parents everywhere, Diane Martin, of
Lafayette, Ind., thought there were better things for her 13-year-old son David
to be doing this past summer than hanging around the house watching television
and bickering with his sister.
Osteopenia is a term used to describe bone density that is somewhat lower than normal -- but not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which thinning bones become so fragile that they are prone to fracture easily. A person who has osteopenia is at risk for osteoporosis and may benefit from treatments to strengthen bone.
So she enrolled David in a summer camp at nearby Purdue
University. Basketball, swimming, soccer, and the company of 45 other boys --
that was the ticket for a healthy summer.
But that wasn't all there was to Camp Calcium, a project of
researchers at Purdue to study the relationship between calcium intake and
growth of bones in a natural, and fun, setting. The boys were also taught some
important lessons about osteoporosis, a disease that occurs when bones become
brittle and susceptible to fracture.
For six weeks, David and the other boys consumed a controlled
diet of varying amounts of calcium and received periodic bone scans. They were
also required to collect their feces and urine so researchers could determine
how much calcium was being retained in their bones, and how much was being
In the normal course of things, collecting urine and feces
might not be considered summertime activity for 13-year olds -- but anything
can be made to seem routine after a while. "David didn't mind the
collections," his mother says. "All the boys were doing the same thing,
so it was just normal."
In return, David was paid seven dollars a day for
participating, and enjoyed all the activities typical of summer camp. He lived
in a dorm with the other guys and attended minicamps in soccer, basketball,
swimming, track, and bowling, receiving instruction from Purdue University
"We wanted to expose these kids to activities they would be
doing normally in their life," says Berdine Martin, PhD, lead researcher in
the Camp Calcium study. "It's a way to get kids to participate in a study
that is enjoyable and has an educational feature."
Not For Women Only
That education may save David's bones later in life. "He
understands the importance of calcium and how it will affect him in the
future," his mother tells WebMD.
It's a lesson not widely known to apply to young boys. But
Connie Weaver, PhD, head of the department of foods and nutrition at Purdue,
says the notion that osteoporosis is only an elderly woman's concern is a
"Osteoporosis is rapidly increasing in men, yet all of the
studies to date have been in women," she tells WebMD. "Twenty percent
of the fractures are in men."
And because the bones that kids build as teens will be the
bones that last -- or fracture -- in their older years, it's wise to start
early, Martin says.
"It's important to consume a diet that will maximize your
genetic potential for the heaviest bones possible," she tells WebMD.
"Men and women will lose some bone as they age. If we start at a higher
point as teens, then obviously we can postpone and prevent factures."