akronchildrens.org

Is your teen shunning the recipe for strong bone health?

Hiking is a great family activityIt’s long been touted calcium, vitamin D and exercise are necessary to build strong bones. But, there’s rising concern children and teens aren’t getting what their bodies need to build a rock-solid skeletal structure for life.

By the time puberty ends, around age 14 or 15, about 90 percent of the adult-sized skeleton is complete.

Dr. Todd Ritzman

Dr. Todd Ritzman

“It’s probably a combination of our society’s obesity epidemic and the change in lifestyle that has come along with that,” said Dr. Todd Ritzman, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Akron Children’s Hospital. “I think we’ve become more sedentary. We do less physical activity. Our diets have deteriorated.”

He points to a recent article from the American Academy of Pediatrics as proof kids aren’t getting enough exercise. The average 8 to 18 year old spends 7 hours a day in front of a screen, whether that’s a phone, iPad or TV.

“Exercise is directly related to our bone health,” said Dr. Ritzman, who recommends families limit their children’s screen time to one hour a day and encourage active play instead. “The more we use them, the stronger we get.”

Further complicating the issue, the recent article published on NPR argued children and teens are shunning the very foods they require to build strong bones.

Federal health officials recommend children between the ages of 9 and 18 get 1,300 milligrams of calcium and about 600 international units of vitamin D every day.

“Exercise is directly related to our bone health. The more we use them, the stronger we get,” said Dr. Ritzman.

Only about 15 percent of high school students — and only about 9 percent of girls — are drinking milk, according to a 2011 federal survey. Other calcium-rich food choices, such as yogurt and cheese, are being ignored because they’re thought of as too fattening.

But even if kids get the recommended amount of calcium, if they’re not also getting vitamin D to absorb it, it won’t make a difference.

“If you live in the northern hemisphere, certainly in northeast Ohio, lots of us have a mild vitamin D deficiency because we’re not seeing much sunlight,” Dr. Ritzman said.

The good news is over-the-counter supplements will help, especially if a child has dietary restrictions and can’t tolerate foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.

“But more importantly,” he said, “overcoming that obesity epidemic and societal change in our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is [crucial to bone health].”