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Children's Bone Health and Calcium: Other FAQs

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Basic information for topics, such as "What is it?" and "How many people are affected?" are available in the Condition Information section. In addition, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that are specific to a certain topic are answered in this section.

How does diet help maintain bone health?

Your body uses nutrients in your diet to build your bones. The most important bone-building nutrient in your diet is calcium. Calcium is critical to building bone mass to support physical activity and reduce the risk of fractures. By helping your child eat a diet that's rich in calcium, you can help him or her build strong bones for life. Many foods contain calcium, including milk and dairy products, vegetables, and fish. Additionally, calcium may be added to foods or to milk and juices to enhance the amount of total dietary calcium intake.

How is vitamin D related to healthy bones?

Vitamin D is important for building strong bones because it helps the body absorb the calcium in milk and other foods. Children who do not get enough vitamin D can develop rickets, a condition in which the bones become soft, thin, and brittle.

In a large health survey, 9% of U.S. children, teens, and young adults ages 1 to 21 years had vitamin D levels low enough to put them at risk for rickets. Among teenagers, 61% were severely deficient in vitamin D. Children who did not drink milk frequently were at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency.1

Sunlight stimulates the body to make vitamin D in the skin. However, when spending time outdoors, children should wear protective clothing and use sunscreen to prevent sunburn, which can lead to skin cancer later in life.2 (For more information about sun safety, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website.)

Few foods contain vitamin D naturally. Most of the vitamin D in our diets comes from foods that have been fortified with it, such as milk, orange juice, yogurt, and certain breakfast cereals.

The following chart lists selected food sources ranked by the approximate amount of vitamin D they contain in a standard portion:

Food Portion Size Vitamin D (IU)
Cod liver oil 1 tbsp 1,360
Swordfish, cooked 3 oz 566
Salmon (sockeye), cooked 3 oz 447
Tuna, canned in water, drained 3 oz 154
Orange juice, vitamin D fortified 8 oz 137
Milk (nonfat, reduced fat, or whole), vitamin D fortified 8 oz 115–124
Yogurt, vitamin D fortified 6 oz 80
Margarine, vitamin D fortified 1 tbsp 60
Sardines, canned in oil, drained 2 sardines 46
Beef liver, cooked 3 oz 42
Egg (vitamin D is in yolk) 1 large 41
Ready-to-eat cereal, vitamin D fortified 6–8 oz 40

Adapted from: Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. (2011). Dietary supplement fact sheet: Vitamin D. Retrieved April 21, 2012, from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

As with calcium, children and teens need different amounts of vitamin D in their diets depending on their age:3

At ages Children and teens should get this much vitamin D every day:
Younger than 1 year 400 International Units (IU)
1 to 18 years 600 IU

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed infants receive a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU per day beginning a few days after birth and continuing throughout childhood.4 This is because breast milk, while considered best for babies for many other reasons, is not a good source of vitamin D. Infants who are fully or partially fed formula but drink less than 32 ounces of vitamin D-fortified formula a day also need the daily 400 IU vitamin D supplement.5

What is peak bone mass?

Peak bone mass is the amount of bone a person has in his or her early adult years. The body builds most bone by age 19 in girls and by age 22 in boys.1 In other words, by their late teens or early 20s, most people's bones are as dense and strong as they will ever be. Maximizing peak bone mass as a teen reduces the risk for osteoporosis (thin, weak bones that break easily) later in life.

What can I do to increase my child's calcium intake?

Put calcium on the table at every meal. Be a good example for your children, and drink milk in front of them. Include low-fat milk in every meal and include other calcium-rich and calcium-fortified choices over the course of the entire day.

Some people may have difficulty digesting milk products due to lactose intolerance. Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy foods. When lactose is not digested, it may cause an upset stomach, bloating, diarrhea, and gas.

Lactose intolerance is not common in young children. It is less of a problem if milk or dairy foods are taken with meals. Talk to your pediatrician if you think your child might have trouble digesting milk and dairy foods.

For additional information, check out the Lactose Intolerance topic.

  1. National Institutes of Health. (2010, February). Keeping bones strong and healthy: Let's talk about osteoporosis. NIH News in Health. Retrieved May 8, 2012, from http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2010/February/feature1.htm [top]
  2. Kumar, J., Muntner, P., Kaskel, F. J., Hailpern, S. M., & Melamed, M. L. (2009). Prevalence and associations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D deficiency in US children: NHANES 2001–2004. Pediatrics, 124(3), e362–370. [top]
  3. Wagner, C. L., & Greer, F. R. (2008). Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics, 122(5), 1142–1152. [top]
  4. Institute of Medicine. (2010, November). Dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D. Report brief. Retrieved April 21, 2012, from http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2010/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Calcium-and-Vitamin-D.aspx External Web Site Policy [top]
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Breastfeeding: Vitamin D supplementation. Retrieved May 8, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/vitamin_D.htm External Web Site Policy [top]
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012). Vitamin D and your baby. Retrieved May 22, 2012, from http://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Vitamin-D-And-Your-Baby.aspx?nfstatus=401 External Web Site Policy [top]

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Last Updated Date: 05/14/2014
Last Reviewed Date: 05/06/2014
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