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Calcium Intake Found Too Low in Children and Adolescents

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WebMD Health News

Dec. 2, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Children and adolescents are not receiving enough calcium, according to a revised policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics that appears in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics. Calcium-rich foods and beverages, as well as exercise, provide the solutions.

Calcium plays several very important roles in development, according to Susan Baker, MD, PhD, in an interview with WebMD. "The one we probably focus on the most and know the most about is bone health," she says. "Currently, we understand that calcium is deposited in bones until early adulthood. Then, ? we tend to leach calcium from our bones. ? The more calcium you can have on board for your bones, the less likely you are to have problems [such as osteoporosis] later on." Additionally, she suggests that, although the data are not in yet, dietary calcium may play an important role in blood pressure regulation. Baker is a professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston, and chairwoman of the Committee on Nutrition at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Baker says that the problem of children not getting enough calcium is probably not new. "As we begin to understand calcium needs a little better, we're finding that probably we underestimated them in some of the recommendations that were made previously," she says. However, she adds, there has been a gradual movement away from calcium-rich foods and drinks to those that have no nutritional benefits for children. She cites sodas as a prime example.

While many children erroneously believe that eating dairy products will make them put on weight, Baker indicates that the behaviors associated with improved calcium nutrition are the same behaviors necessary to prevent obesity. "We want [to encourage] healthful foods and beverages and exercise," she says.

Based on the 1994 NIH recommendations, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children consume 800 mg per day of calcium. Preteens and adolescents should consume 1,200 to 1,500 mg per day of calcium.

What are some examples of foods or drinks that are high in calcium? "Other than milk, or milk-based beverages, there is very little calcium in anything that is a beverage," says Baker. "Some of the juices are fortified with calcium. If you have a calcium-fortified juice, you get approximately the same amount of calcium as is present in milk. In foods, the most calcium is in dairy products. White beans, broccoli, sardines, and sweet potatoes have some calcium. [But] you have to be very careful with leafy green vegetables -- for example, spinach. It does have a lot of calcium, but it's not in a form that the body can really use."

Is there anything that can be done to enhance the effects of calcium? Yes, Baker says. Exercise increases the amount of calcium that is deposited in the bones. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, she says, but most kids don't have any problem in this department, since sunshine and most of the dairy products are major sources of vitamin D.

Is there such a thing as too much calcium? Calcium deposits in muscles are possible, says Baker; however, it is "almost impossible" to overdose on calcium through food. "The worry would be if people used supplements," she says. "[And] you really have to take a lot of supplements [to overdose]. ? We really recommend that people use food to meet their dietary requirements. Only under unusual circumstances do we recommend supplements -- in general, in consultation with a health care provider."

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