Kids Plagued by 'Calcium Crisis'

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 14, 2001 -- Our children are in the midst of a "calcium crisis," according to food and nutrition experts. But there are things you can do to assure that your kids don't suffer the long-term effects of not getting enough calcium in their diet.

Only 14% of girls and 36% of boys age 12 to 19 in the U.S. are getting the recommended amounts of calcium, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Close to 90% of adult bone is established by the end of the teen years. So if kids are off to a bad start in getting enough calcium, says the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), down the road, they are at serious risk of developing the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis as well as other bone diseases.

"Osteoporosis is a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences," said Duane Alexander, MD, director of NICHD, in a news release.

"Preventing this and other bone diseases begins in childhood. With low calcium intake levels during these important bone growth periods, today's children and teens are certain to face a serious public health problem in the future," he adds.

Kids are not getting enough calcium, in part, because they are drinking too many soft drinks and non-citrus drinks instead of milk, which is full of calcium and vitamin D. But milk consumption is on the decline.

Alexander explains that the number of fractures among children and young adults already is increasing, probably due to lower intakes of calcium.

And pediatricians are also seeing a rise in kids with rickets, a bone disease that results from low levels of vitamin D, according to the NICHD. Rickets became almost nonexistent when vitamin D was added to milk in the 1950's, but doctors are now seeing this devastating bone disease among kids.

"As these children get older, this calcium crisis will become more serious as the population starts to show its highest rate of osteoporosis and other bone health problems in our nation's history," Alexander said.

"But we need to remember that this is preventable and correctable public health problem."

And there are things you can do to protect your child's bones.-->


The American Association of Pediatrics recommends the following amount of calcium for children:

  • 210 mg for infants up to six months old;
  • 270 mg for infants six months to 1 year old;
  • 500 mg for toddlers aged 1-3;
  • 800 mg for children aged 4-8;
  • 1,300 mg for children aged 9-18.

The NICHD recommends low-fat or fat-free milk as the preferred source of dietary calcium. Milk contains high amounts of both calcium and vitamin D, which helps the body use calcium. Milk also contains other nutrients, such as vitamins A and B12, potassium, magnesium, and protein, which are essential for developing healthy bones and teeth.

But if you have to struggle with your kids to get them to drink a glass of milk, there are other sources of calcium.

To give you an idea of how much calcium is in some calcium-rich foods, here are some examples:

  • 1 cup of milk -- 300 mg
  • 1/2 cup of broccoli -- 35 mg
  • 1/2 cut of spinach -- 120 mg
  • 1.5 oz of cheddar cheese -- 300 mg
  • 8 oz. of low-fat yogurt -- 300-415 mg
  • 1 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice -- 300 mg