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Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Teens and Healthy Bones

Children and teens in the United States need more milk, sunshine, and exercise! We know this because there is actually a resurgence of rickets - a childhood disease that results in bowleggedness. Rickets is a vitamin D deficiency that causes bones to soften and bend. The main sources of vitamin D are sunlight, as well as vitamin-D fortified cow's milk and infant formula, suggesting that breast-fed babies, or those who only drink rice or soy milk, need extra sunlight or vitamin supplements.

To build strong bones people need calcium, vitamin D and exercise starting in childhood. Specifically, young children need 800 milligrams of calcium a day, and between 9 and 18 years old, they need 1,300 mg. That is about three glasses of milk plus some broccoli, cheese, and yogurt. Children and teens also need at least 200 international units of vitamin D, which they can get from 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a week. Finally, children of all ages need at least one hour of physical activity daily, preferably a weight-bearing exercise, which means the arms or legs bear all the body's weight.

Scientists are very concerned that millions of our seemingly healthy children aren't building as much strong bone as they should - which could lead to osteoporosis later in life. Cincinnati Children's Hospital recently led a national study to document how bone mass is accumulated in healthy children ages 6 to 17 producing the first bone-growth guide, just like a height-and-weight chart, for pediatricians. The next step in their research is to follow those participants for ten years to see how their bones turn out.

You may not know that half of peak bone mass develops during adolescence, and many people are worried that as this generation grows older, they will experience thinning bones at a higher rate then their parents. By the time people are in their 30s it is normal for bone to break down faster than it is rebuilt. Sadly though, our children may be experiencing the consequences of our sedentary lifestyle earlier - as suggested by an increase in the number of broken bones each year, particularly in obese children and teens.

Photo credit: derek*b

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.