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Calcium and Children
By Dr. Sally Robinson and Dr. Keith Bly

Calcium is one of the most important minerals that the body needs. The body uses calcium to build strong bones, which don’t completely develop until about age 17.

Calcium content in the bones begins to decrease after the teen years, especially in women. Children and teens that don’t get enough calcium increase their risk of developing osteoporosis, a bone disease which causes the bones to weaken and break easily.

Ninety-nine percent of the calcium in a child’s body is stored in his or her bones and teeth. The remaining 1% is in the bloodstream. It is delivered throughout the body and plays a role in muscle contraction, blood clotting, absorption of other minerals, and message transmission through nerves.
If the level of calcium in the blood is low due to poor calcium intake, it is taken from the bones to make sure that the body’s cells function properly.

Many children do not get the FDA-recommended amount of calcium per day that their body needs. This may be due to the fact that many children drink more soda than milk. Carbonated beverages also contain chemicals that interfere with the way the body absorbs calcium.

Children, up to age 3 need between 500 and 800 milligrams of calcium per day; ages 4 to 8 should get about 800 milligrams daily; ages 9 to 18 should get 1300 to 1500 milligrams. Milk and other dairy products are the best sources of calcium, but beans, cheese, yogurt, broccoli and other dark green, leafy vegetables, almonds, and calcium-fortified juices are also other good sources.

Children under 1 year-old should not have milk products because of the possibility of allergy. Children between 1 and 2 years should drink whole milk because it provides dietary fats, which kids this age need for normal growth and brain development. After age 2, most children can switch to low fat or nonfat milk, but check with your child’s pediatrician before switching. All milk contains the same amount of calcium, no matter what the fat content is.

Children that are allergic to milk or that are lactose intolerant can get calcium from soy-based or lactose-free products that are sold in most stores. If you are concerned that your child is not getting enough calcium, ask your pediatrician about calcium supplements.

Dr. Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. For more information, visit: www.utmb.edu


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