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Boning Up on Bones

Camp Calcium

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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.

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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 excreted.

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 coaches.

"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 myth.

"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."

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