Dealing with the dairy nutrient gap: Children and teens are consuming less dairy than before
...Potentially harming bone growth and development.
New Dairy Gap report 1 lays bare worrying trends across 10 years for key dairy nutrients but identifies simple health hacks, like giving kids a daily pot of yogurt
A new report detailing data from a new survey of parents by Petits Filous, reveals how more than half of teens and kids are having fewer than two dairy servings a day. The same report also notes research from the UK government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) which shows how key bone nutrients in kids and teens are falling below dietetic recommendations. This is despite some experts recommending three portions of dairy foods daily for bone health according to the report - Children’s bone health crisis: Indoor pandemic lifestyle and low dairy consumption putting children’s bone development at risk. The worries are justified since dairy foods provide essential nutrients needed for children’s bone growth and development especially calcium and vitamin D. Official UK surveys3 show that milk and other dairy foods contribute 30-40% of daily calcium intakes for school age children and teens, 9-17% of their vitamin D intake, 40-50% of their daily iodine intake as well as around 10% of their magnesium intake. All of these nutrients, as well as protein, are involved in supporting normal bone development. Dr Carrie Ruxton, dietitian, reveals how a steady decline in bone health nutrients in some age groups, with others failing to hit recommended levels, is a big cause for concern. “Children need proportionately four and a half times more calcium than adults and seven times more vitamin D, as their bones are still growing. More than four in ten parents are either unaware of this, or wrongly assume adults and children have similar needs”1. Bones bear the brunt of poor diets Adopting healthy eating habits – which include the bone health nutrients vitamin D and calcium from dairy products, like yogurts – are essential from a young age. This is because bone accumulates from birth until mid-twenties when peak bone mass is reached. After this, bone mass stabilises and then declines. This decline can be accelerated with age, hormonal changes and poor lifestyle habits, such as smoking and lack of exercise, which can lead to debilitating and painful bone conditions in adult hood such as osteoporosis.
Children themselves can also experience bone conditions, says GP and mum of three, Dr Nisa Aslam, who reveals: “Cases of rickets – a condition where bones soften during development leading to bowing of the legs - have reappeared over the past decade. This is despite cases of rickets largely disappearing in the early 20th century thanks to dietary improvements and lower pollution levels.” Yogurt: an easy dietary hack to support kids’ bone health Yogurt provides essential calcium, protein, vitamin B2 and iodine, and certain yogurts and fromage frais are fortified with vitamin D too. In fact, the Petits Filous survey revealed that an impressive three quarters of parents know that yogurt provides calcium, and are either aware or slightly aware that some yogurts and fromage frais are fortified with vitamin D2. Despite this, by the time children hit their teens, consumption of dairy is already in decline which also means other
vital nutrients like iodine and magnesium could also be short in teen diets too. While milk and cheese intakes in 4–10-year-olds - versus 11–18-year-olds - stay much the same, intakes of yogurt are 40% lower in older boys and 50% lower in older girls compared with younger children. In fact, only three in 10 teenagers eat yogurt on a daily basis. The Petits Filous survey2 reveals that only a fifth of parents are taking active steps to provide the right nutrients for their child’s bone health, with a third expressing concern that their children are not getting the right nutrients or exercise to protect their bone health. In fact, just a third of parents provide their child with a vitamin D supplement, despite the UK government advising a year-round supplement during the lockdowns for children and adults to safeguard their intakes. “Yogurt is such a simple way to stay on top of your child’s bone health needs”, says Dr Carrie Ruxton. “There’s 140 mg of calcium in 100g of kids’ fromage frais, whilst 150 g of unsweetened whole milk yogurt provides 300 mg of calcium. This is a good start towards children’ daily calcium needs which range from 450 mg in younger children to 1000 mg in teen boys”. She adds: “A Petits Filous fromage frais mixed fruits contains 2.5 mcg of vitamin D per 85g pot which is officially rich in vitamin D.” Younger children achieve just 30-40% of the recommended 10 µg of vitamin D a day, whilst teens aged 11-18 years fare worse, averaging 20% or just 2 µg a day. “Protein is also needed for bone development, and dairy foods are an ideal source of this”, says Dr Nisa Aslam. “Plus, a scientific modelling exercise by the British Nutrition Foundation, 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.” The proof is in the (dairy-filled) health food ‘hack’. It’s time to tip this dairy nutrient decline on its head and give our children the nourishing, bone-boosting nutrients they need for great health now, and into adulthood.