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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

4 easy ways to boost your child's bone health: As research shows a worrying decline

... In essential nutrients.

It’s time to take bone health off the backburner and give our children the nutrients they need for healthy bones development

The past 12 months has seen a global pandemic take centre stage in the health domain. But it is not the only health trouble facing people’s future health. A new Petits Filous Survey[1] shows we need to sort fact from fiction on teen and children’s bone health. A worrying trend across 10 years for key dairy nutrients calcium and vitamin D – means we need to make bone health a big priority. And including a children’s yogurt in their daily diets could offer an easy helping hand. It’s clear that parents are aware of their children’s developing bones. A new Dairy Gap report[2]Indoor pandemic lifestyle and low dairy consumption putting children’s bone development at risk – which includes new Petits Filous Survey data - has revealed how nearly eight in 10 parents have considered their kids’ bone health. Despite this, less than a fifth are actually taking steps to provide the right nutrients and only half are ‘slightly aware’ of the recommendation for children to eat two to three portions of dairy or fortified alternatives every day. The Petits Filous survey1 also found that more than half of children and teens are having less than this, consuming fewer than two dairy servings a day and according to the UK government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS),[3] there’s been a nine per cent reduction in calcium intakes over the years in primary school children. Why the worry? Dietitian, Dr Carrie Ruxton, a co-author on the Dairy Gap report highlights that several studies have proven that dairy benefits bone health. She says: “It’s thanks to dairy being not only rich in calcium but also other essential nutrients for bones, such as magnesium and iodine. Plus, some kids’ yogurts are fortified nowadays with vitamin D – a key partner in bone health...” GP and mum of three, Dr Nisa Aslam, adds that childhood is the prime time to ensure bones are given everything they need to safeguard/ secure optimal mineral density and strength, as bone mass peaks during the mid-twenties. “Leaving bones lacking in vitamins, protein, minerals and exercise can have a detrimental effect – which often goes unnoticed until later in life when bone density goes into decline.” She adds that rickets – a condition where bones soften during development leading to bowing of the legs – largely disappeared in the early 20th century thanks to dietary improvements and lower pollution levels. “However, according to the NHS[4], cases have increased over the past decade. A recent survey reported in Archives of Disease in Childhood revealed that rickets is still being reported5, whereas this condition could be entirely preventable”, says Dr Aslam.” So how can we ensure our children are getting the bone boosting benefits they require? Eat nutrient-rich foods, including yogurt for bone health needs 100g of fromage frais brings an impressive 140mg of calcium. A serving about this size is an easy and healthy addition to a child’s bone friendly diet. In 150 g of unsweetened whole milk yogurt, there’s a staggering 300 mg of calcium – a good step towards the daily needs of children, which range from 450mg (for kids 4-6 years) to 1000mg depending on age. It’s not just dairy foods that provide this essential nutrient. Green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, fortified plant-based milks and fortified bread, are all great sources. What is worrying, though, is that a third of parents questioned in the Petits Filous survey1 claimed bananas were a source of calcium1. “A child aged 7-10 years old would need to eat 93 bananas to get his or her daily calcium recommendation”, remarks Dr Nisa Aslam, rejecting the idea that this popular fruit can provide any major bone benefits. Make vitamin D a priority Despite the UK government recommending that everyone over 1 year should take a year-round supplement of vitamin D during the lockdowns to safeguard their levels, only a third of parents were giving their kids a supplement. But ignoring the need for vitamin D - often dubbed the sunshine vitamin – could worsen bone health issues. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption from food, however 63% of parents are unaware of this calcium/vitamin D partnership. Younger children are only achieving around 30-40% of the recommended 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day, whilst

teens aged 11-18 fare worse, averaging around 2 micrograms a day.3 As a result, it’s important to establish from a young age good, lifelong healthy eating habits which provide bone hero nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium. In the lighter months, from April to September, we can make vitamin D in the body from sunlight but rely on dietary sources the rest of the year. Encourage children to play outside in t-shirts and shorts for just 10 minutes without sun protection – slightly longer for darker skinned children – and offer plenty of vitamin D rich foods such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), eggs, mushrooms, fortified cereals and fortified yogurts and fromage frais. Check the vitamin D content on the food label, as only some yogurts and dairy alternatives are fortified with this essential bone health hero.

Move more Worryingly, more than eight in ten children do not meet the recommended target of 60 minutes physical activity a day[5], set by the UK government and the World Health Organisation. What’s more, the Petits Filous survey1 shows that a fifth of children are inactive and move for less than 15 minutes a day! Exercise isn’t just for staying fit; weight bearing exercises and resistance training help to keep bones healthy by putting them under light stress which stimulates bone production. Dr Carrie Ruxton says that weight-bearing exercises include walking, running, dancing, skipping, playing netball or tennis, hiking and doing high impact aerobics[6]. Resistance training includes lifting weights or using resistance bands to create tension. Get your children to run, jump, catch, throw, skip or play ball games either outside, or if stuck indoors, get them to follow an online kids’ workout – and have fun by joining in yourself! Make time for magnesium! Unfortunately, nearly half of teenage girls are at risk of magnesium deficiency according to the UK government’s diet survey. This mineral is needed in general to help control the hormone PTH – parathyroid – which helps control blood calcium levels and prevent bone breakdown[7]. Adding fish, green leafy vegetables, beans and nuts, wholegrains and dairy to your child’s diet will help increase levels of magnesium. Try blending leafy greens and beans into curries, stews and pasta dishes, whilst covering fresh fish in tasty sauces and crusts to introduce new flavours. More dairy science musts Plus, a scientific modelling exercise by the British Nutrition Foundation[8], based on government dietary data, found that adding a daily pot of yogurt to a child or teenager’s diet helped them achieve recommendations for calcium and narrow the shortfall for other key bone health nutrients such as magnesium and zinc. Yet another reason to ensure dairy plays a key role in your child’s daily diet.

All in all… We can give our children the nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong; just a few dietary and lifestyle tweaks will ensure that their bone health is placed on the front burner. Including dairy, like a yogurt pot in a child’s day-to-day diet is such a simple and achievable way to help our children have the best possible start in life as they grow/develop/adventure/ venture into adulthood.

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