During all of my check-ups, I discuss the importance of dairy products in a child’s diet to provide adequate calcium and vitamin D for bone growth and long-term bone health.
Of course, it’s not difficult to get little ones to drink milk, eat string cheese or slurp a yogurt, but older kids can be more challenging.
Teenage girls seem to be the biggest offenders when it comes to calcium intake. When I ask them if they drink milk, a typical response is, “Uh, no.” Then, if I ask about other dairy products they consume, they may say they drink the milk out of the cereal bowl, grab a frozen yogurt at lunch, or have an occasional slice of cheese.
When I ask if they know how much calcium and vitamin D they need during the tween and teen years, I invariably get a blank stare (yet they always know how many texts they have on their cellphone plan). The answer, by the way, is 1,300 milligrams of calcium and 600 units of vitamin D per day once a child hits the teen years.
That being said, I always encourage teen girls to eat more dairy products, drink milk and take a calcium/vitamin D supplement, as well. Interestingly, they usually don’t balk at the idea of a vitamin, but it’s tough to get them to stay on the supplement for more than a few days or weeks, when they typically start to “forget.”
Recently, I was seeing a family with two teenage daughters who’d heard my calcium talk before. Both non-milk drinkers, the girls were competitive cheerleaders who needed strong bones and who by now could answer my calcium questions. When I asked if they were taking calcium supplements, their mother answered, “They have access to calcium and vitamins” every day. Well put!
In fact, despite having “access,” the girls readily admitted that they “rarely” remembered to take the pills and might be more likely to up their daily consumption of dairy products instead.
Calcium and vitamin D metabolism is a hot topic, and “banking calcium” during childhood is so important. Even with access to a calcium supplement, you have to swallow it to make a deposit!
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a pediatrician, medical editor and media host. Submit questions at kidsdr.com.