Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens and affects overall bone stability and strength. This causes bones to become frail and less dense that even mild stressers or falls can cause fractures.
We build almost 90 percent of our whole bones during the first 20 years of our lives − half occurring during adolescence, according to Meghan Kostyk, Advanced Practice Nurse and Certified Densitometrist at Lurie Children’s.
“When kids have two or more fractures of longer bigger bones under the age of 10 or three or more fractures under the age of 19, we consider osteoporosis,” says Kostyk. “Warning signs are fracturing often without an explanation or having chronic bone pain.”
Osteoporosis can occur for multiple reasons, but causes can include: health conditions that make bones weaker, such as stomach problems, cancer or osteogenesis imperfecta. Some teenagers are at risk since bone growth is most prominent during puberty. If teens over-exercise or under-eat in adolescence, their hormones can be suppressed, which decreases bone density. However, preventing osteoporosis at an early age is critical for all children.
To build strong bones, Kostyk recommends integrating vitamin D into the body. Vitamin D, which comes from the sun, allows children to absorb calcium and carry it to their bones. Some people may need to take an extra vitamin D supplement if they live in northern states that do not produce enough sun.
Another option? Include calcium in a child’s diet, using foods rather than supplements, to stimulate healthy bones. The amount of calcium a child requires varies by age, but a good rule of thumb is the older the child, the more calcium is needed.
“It doesn’t matter if calcium comes from dairy or dairy substitutes, but the amount of calcium is most important,” says Kostyk. “Dairy products are often mentioned because they have the highest amount of calcium. The type of milk doesn’t matter, but if it is a dairy substitute like coconut or rice milk, make sure the label states that it is calcium fortified.”
Exercise can help build bones, even if it is just walking. All weight bearing activities help support bone mass development.
“Taking preventative action from a young age, will lessen a child’s chance for osteoporosis down the road. Make sure to avoid alcohol, cigarettes and diets high in caffeine and sodium because they can pull calcium away from the bones. Above all, maintain a healthy balance of calcium enriched foods and exercise,” says Kostyk.