Give Your Kids a Head Start on Healthy Bones

Cute cheerful little girl drinking milk

By Mia James

Bone health is a hot topic for women—from diets to build strong bones and exercise to maintain strength as we age. But let’s not forget about the next generation when we talk about sturdy skeletons. Even though we tend to think of weak and thinning bones as a concern of middle age and beyond, the truth is that we can start thinking about bone health much earlier.

As adults, our bone health has been established by our personal health histories and genetics. We work from there with lifestyle measures and help from our doctors to keep our bones as strong as possible. If we’re mothers, on the other hand, we can give our kids a head start on healthy bones.

Never too Early

Just how early can we start looking out for our children’s bone health? As soon as we know we’re pregnant, according to some research. It appears that your diet while you’re pregnant—specifically, your vitamin intake—can help your child build strong bones for many years.[1]

 A study followed about 3,000 pregnant women, who recorded what they ate each day and reported it to researchers. Researchers also measured vitamin concentrations in the expectant mothers’ blood. When the children were six years old, the researchers measured their bone mass.

According to their findings, a mother’s diet during her first trimester of pregnancy appeared to influence her child’s bone health. Children born to mothers who had the highest amount of protein, phosphorous, and vitamin B12 in their diets and blood had the strongest bones (highest bone mass and bone mineral density) at age six.

It’s possible that mothers who ate a healthier diet during pregnancy also fed their kids healthier meals early in life and that this could account for the higher bone mass and density in this group. But it also appears that there’s a direct link between how you eat during pregnancy and the way your child’s bones develop, making eating well during pregnancy an excellent opportunity to ensure your child’s bone health.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) confirms that even though osteoporosis is more common in older adults, prevention starts early in life. Your kids are forming bone mass during childhood and through adolescence, making their early years a key time to ensure healthy bones for life.[2]

To help your kids build strong bones, the NIAMS recommends good nutrition and physical activity. When it comes to nutrition, foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D are essential for healthy bones. Ask your pediatrician about the recommended daily amount for your child, depending on his or her age. Milk and other dairy products as well as certain leafy green vegetables and some types of fish are among the great sources of calcium. While some foods contain vitamin D, your body gets most of this nutrient through sun exposure—when the sun hits your skin, it triggers a process by which your body produces vitamin D.

As for exercise, kids who physically play a lot will develop stronger bones—whether they’re casually having fun with friends or participating in organized sports. And kids who play outside will also get the needed sun exposure to produce vitamin D (even though you’ll still want to make sure your child is protected from the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays with sunscreen, a hat, and clothing).


References

[1] Heppe DH, Medina-Gomez C, Hofman A, et al. Maternal first-trimester diet and childhood bone mass: the Generation R Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013 Jul;98(1):224-32.

[2] Kids and Their Bones: A Guide for Parents. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/bone/bone_health/juvenile/default.asp. Accessed August 21, 2015.