When you think about your children’s health, do you think about their bones? Building strong bones by adopting healthy nutritional and lifestyle habits in childhood, is important to help prevent osteoporosis and fractures later in life. Building your children’s “bone bank” account is similar to saving for their education: the more they can put away when they are young, the longer it should last as they get older. The health habits your children are forming now can make, or literally break, their bones as they age.
How can I help my children to develop healthy bones?
The best way to help your children develop healthy habits for life is to be a good role model. Research suggests that active children have active parents. If you make physical activity a priority and try hard to maintain a healthy diet (including plenty of calcium), chances are your positive lifestyle will “rub off” on them along the way.
Here are some things you can do:
- Be a role model. Drink milk with meals, eat calcium-rich snacks, and get plenty of (low impact) weight-bearing exercise like walking.
- Don’t smoke. Several research studies have identified smoking as a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fracture. Discourage your children from smoking.
- Incorporate calcium-rich foods into family meals.
- Serve fat-free or low-fat milk with meals and snacks.
- Stock up on calcium-rich snacks that are easy for hungry children to find, such as: cheese cubes, natural yoghurt, fruit, soy, tofu, almonds. Green vegetables as snacks may not seem that attractive but a lovely broccoli soup after a winter school day sounds pretty good.
- Search the web for high calcium child-friendly snacks
- Limit access to soft drinks and other snacks that don’t provide calcium, by not keeping them in the house.
- Help your children to find a variety of physical activities or sports they enjoy participating in. Spending time outdoors is important as Vitamin D has been shown to improve the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D is derived from sunlight but is also contained within foods. Follow ‘sun-safe’ guidelines. How much Vitamin D you get from the sun will depend on where you live in Australia, the season and your skin type. Generally, with fair skin, five minutes in summer at mid-morning or mid-afternoon is adequate and in winter slightly longer: 7-30 minutes. With darker skin, exposure time is usually 3-6 times longer.
- Establish a firm time limit for ‘couch potato’ activities such as TV, computers, and video games.
- Talk to your children’s doctor about their bone health. If your child has a special medical condition that may interfere with bone mass development, ask the doctor for ways to minimize the problem and protect your child’s bone health.
- Talk to your children about their bone health, and let them know it is a priority for you. Your children may not think much about health, but they are probably attracted to such health benefits as energy, confidence and strength.
- Look for signs of eating disorders and over training, especially in pre-teen and teenage girls and boys, and address these problems promptly. You may need to involve your doctor in this process.
Back pain is uncommon in children and when it does occur, it is usually because of how schoolbags are worn on the back. About 70 per cent of school children have bags that are too heavy and/or are not worn correctly. View the following links to find out how to ensure that your child’s backpack will not cause pain.
Choosing and wearing a backpack appropriately.
These links offer information about appropriate posture:
Websites that may be of interest
Sesame Street + Count sings, includes song lyrics
Do the skeleton dance (The thigh bone’s connected to …). This is animated and children could dance along. There are lyrics at the bottom of the screen.
Osteoporosis This British website deals with Smoking and Osteoporosis and discusses the role of medications (including some for arthritis) which affect bone strength.
Strategy to prevent osteoporosis This is a scientific article but it has relevant Australian information.