Osteoporosis is a disease which causes weak bones and increased risk of fracture. It is often associated with older adults. Nevertheless, peak bone mass is reached at around 20 years of age so children and teens need to ensure good bone health. Indeed, during childhood is when more bone is laid down and stored.
Numerous factors influence how much bone mass we acquire: gender, race, hormones, diet and physical activity. After puberty males tend to lay down more bone than females and reach a higher peak bone mass. During childhood, boys & girls lay down bone at equal rates. African American women have a lower incidence of osteoporosis than Caucasian women and Africa American girls have a higher peak bone mass than Caucasian girls. Research is being conducted to understand why this difference exists. Estrogen stimulates bone development and girls who begin to menstruate at an earlier age tend to achieve a greater bone density.
While we can’t control our gender/race, diet and exercise are two influencing factors which can be controlled. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, magnesium and zinc is essential to promote strong bones. Children 4 years to 8 years need approximately 1000mg of calcium whereas teenagers need 1300mg (an 8oz glass of milk has about 300mg of calcium). If children are lactose intolerant there are other foods which can provide calcium.
Exercise is very important in stimulating bone growth. Recent studies have shown that exercises involving jumping activities had a positive effect on bone mass. One study followed 2 groups of children, one group did jumping exercises for 7 months and the other group was stretching. The jumping group had a 3.6% higher Bone Mineral Density (BMD) than the stretching group after 7 months. Eight years later, the jumping exercise group still had 1.4% higher BMD than the stretching group. The exercise effect on BMD was also shown in studies to be greater in prepubertal children verses pubertal children.
Other factors which have a negative affect on bone density in children and adolescents are medication such as corticosteroids for rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, smoking, and eating disorders or overtraining which can result in decreased estrogen.
One of the best ways to improve bone health in children is for parents to be a good role model. Parents should try to ensure a well balanced diet and be active themselves.
Written by Susan Reive, Owner of Kilborn Physiotherapy Clinic