Compound Factors In Rising Rates Of Childhood Fractures

Armen Hareyan's picture

Research corroborates the clinician's hunch. Children and adolescents today are more likely to break a bone than their parents were, and experts have found that low dairy intake, overweight, inactivity and early fractures predict an increased risk of future fractures. Because early lifestyle choices can have serious health consequences now and later in life, experts are urging parents to make adequate calcium, vitamin D and physical activity a priority in their children's lives.

"We know that children who avoid dairy products tend to have lower bone mass and more risk of fracture, but we're seeing other factors like weight come into play," said Laura K. Bachrach, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford Medical Center. "Fractures put further bone growth and strengthening on hold. What's more, they may create a vicious cycle for more fracture. Children are less active after breaking a bone, which in turn can further weaken the bones and set the stage for more fractures. If we don't focus our efforts on improving bone health and maintaining a healthy weight from an early age, our children are likely to miss out on a chance to build the strongest bones they can."

Studies from the U.S., Sweden and Japan have shown that fractures are on the rise over the past four decades. American boys are 32 percent and girls are 56 percent more likely to experience bone fracture than children were 40 years ago. Changing eating patterns and obesity rates correlate with this increase. In 1945, Americans drank four times more milk than carbonated soft drinks; in 2001, they consumed nearly two and a half times more soft drinks than milk. As a result, only a fraction of children -- 12 percent of females and 32 percent of males --get the calcium they need to optimize bone health during childhood and adolescence, putting them at risk for fractures now and later in life. Research also found that overweight children reported more fractures than nonoverweight children. Additionally, early fracture increases the risk of repeat injury, further impeding growth and bone-mass accrual.

"The good news is that we can suggest ways to build stronger bones. The window for building strong bones lasts until early adulthood, but it's never too late to make bone health a priority," said Bachrach. "Parents play a critical role in reducing fracture risk by ensuring their children get adequate calcium and vitamin D, cutting out extras and getting active with their children. Small changes made now can yield benefits -- for you and your children -- for years to come."

Bachrach recommends that parents try to provide adequate calcium and vitamin D through nutrient-rich foods whenever possible, rather than turn to supplements. A daily multivitamin can provide adequate vitamin D for most children to absorb the calcium they need for bone health, but ideally, the calcium should come from real food, not pills. Children and adolescents need two to three servings of dairy and 30 minutes of exercise a day for optimal bone-building gains. Because adolescence is typically when teens forgo milk and dairy products for sodas and other snack foods, early family reinforcement and lifestyle adoption is very important. Dairy Council of California offers simple steps to building a lifetime of strong bones:


-- Play soccer or go for a walk, because weight-bearing exercise helps build strong bones and maintain a healthy weight.

-- Encourage milk as the beverage of choice at lunch. Many schools offer low-fat or fat-free flavored milks that children love.

-- Offer cheese and yogurt as bone-building meal components and snack foods. Dairy foods work well as ingredients in many recipes you cook.

-- Include other calcium-rich foods in your diet, like beans, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables. Add slivered almonds and broccoli florets to a salad. Fat-free refried beans and corn tortillas make a great calcium-rich snack.

-- Be sure to include milk and dairy products in your own daily food choices and make time for exercise. If you model healthy behaviors like these, your child is likely to do the same.

-- Find out if nutrition education is part of your child's curriculum. Ideally, nutrition education programs promote healthy foods from all of the food groups, as well as daily physical activity.

-- Go to for recipes that include dairy and other