Editor’s Note: Inside Perspective is a new Dairy Foods feature offering guest editorials from leaders of various dairy industry associations, It will appear in this space each month.

Keep Dairy in the Bone Health Discussion

Editor’s Note: Inside Perspective is a new Dairy Foods feature offering guest editorials from leaders of various dairy industry associations, It will appear in this space each month.

Research shows that today’s children and adolescents are more likely to break a bone than their parents were in their youth.  With calcium intake among most Americans far below recommended levels, this should not be a surprise.  Parents, however, may not be aware that a lack of calcium has an immediate impact on their child’s well-being - it is not just a matter of adult osteoporosis.

The number of bone fractures in children has skyrocketed.  Among the studies showing that childhood fractures have been increasing over the past 40 years is one that showed in 1945 Americans drank four times more milk than carbonated beverages; in 2001, they consumed nearly two and a half times more soft drinks than milk. As a result, only 12% of girls and 32% of boys today get the calcium they need to optimize bone health during childhood and adolescence. This puts them at risk for fractures now and osteoporosis later in life.

Fractures and osteoporosis are not the only concerns.  In the past few years, nutritional rickets – a softening of the bones in children as a result of vitamin D deficiency – has emerged as a public health concern.

Considering dairy products are a primary source of calcium and vitamin D, the dairy industry has a strengthened imperative to educate consumers about the importance of milk and dairy foods in the diet, and ultimately help improve the bone health of our nation’s youth.  As a nutrition education organization, Dairy Council of California continues to actively emphasize bone health not only through our programs delivered to schools and health professionals, but also through our websites and outreach efforts targeting consumers directly.

Making good lifestyle choices

We know children who avoid dairy products tend to have lower bone mass and are at higher risk of fracture, but other factors, such as weight and activity level, also come into play.  Through our consumer outreach, we emphasize the importance of helping children develop good lifestyle habits, since early lifestyle choices can have serious health consequences now and in the future.

Recently, we reached out to parents with simple steps to help their children build strong bones.  Our tips include encouraging milk as the beverage of choice, making daily physical activity a priority, offering cheese and yogurt during snack breaks, and serving as a good nutritional role model for their children.

Let's talk dairy

Along with reminding parents that dairy equals bone health, education efforts have been made toward the health community as well through articles published in health journals, participation at professional meetings and scholarly essays distributed to thousands of health professionals.

These efforts are significant because we have noticed a trend among health professionals to focus only on fruits and vegetables as the solution for optimal health - sometimes leaving out milk and dairy foods in healthy eating dialogues.  Perhaps dairy’s health benefits are being taken for granted since it is widely known that dairy is a leading source of calcium and vitamin D.  Whatever the reason is, understanding the nutritional benefits of dairy is critically important.

As an industry, we need to put an emphasis back on bone health.  Parents – and health professionals – must make adequate calcium, vitamin D and physical activity a priority in children’s lives.  If we do not continue to educate these audiences on the important role milk and dairy play in the diet, our children are likely to miss out on a chance to build strong bones.