father holding up daughterLooking at your young child, it may never occur to you to think of the threat of osteoporosis — a disease that causes loss of bone density and makes a person more vulnerable to fractures. However, the young bones in your child's body will become the older bones in her adult body. If you help her build strong bones in childhood, she will have an advantage as she gets older.

The keys to building strong bones: calcium and vitamin D

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies receive breast milk for their first year to help ensure that they get enough calcium right from the start. However, because breast milk doesn't provide enough vitamin D, your pediatrician may prescribe a supplement. The recommended dosage is 400 IU (International Units) of oral vitamin D drops, which your child should receive daily until she is drinking formula or vitamin D-fortified milk.

Calcium-rich foods include:

  • Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens
  • Beans such as soybeans and white beans
  • Calcium-fortified foods such as oatmeal, orange juice and some cereals 

Foods that are good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel and salmon
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese
  • Vitamin D-fortified foods, including some dairy products and breakfast cereals

Calcium and vitamin D: daily requirements

All children need 600 IU of vitamin D every day. The amount of calcium your child needs each day depends on her age.

  • Ages 1-3: 700 milligrams
  • Ages 4-8: 1,000 milligrams
  • Ages 9-18: 1,300 milligrams 

If you think your child is not getting enough calcium and vitamin D from his diet, speak with his pediatrician who might recommend adding supplements.

Other ways to optimize bone health

Physical activity helps build strong, healthy bones. Make sure your child exercises often, with plenty of outside play, playground play, walking and running.

Being outside also allows your child to benefit from sunlight, which increases the amount of vitamin D in the body. While vitamin D is one of the benefits of sunlight, the sun can be dangerous without adequate protection. Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight.

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello, MD