Children who shun milk and don't get enough calcium-rich substitutes may face an increased risk of breaking a bone, according to a new report. In a study of 50 children considered "milk avoiders," researchers found that 16 (32%) suffered at least one bone fracture by the age of nine.
And regardless of whether they broke a bone, these children tended to have inadequate calcium intakes and low bone density, according to the report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Calcium, along with vitamin D and other nutrients, is essential for building and maintaining strong bones. In the U.S., health officials recommend dairy products as the primary source of calcium, but other sources include fortified soy milk and orange juice, leafy green vegetables and supplements.
The children in this study, however, were not getting calcium-containing milk substitutes, said lead researcher from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Overall, half of the children did not drink milk because of symptoms such as stomach upset or skin irritation. In other cases, though, the children disliked the taste of milk, or their families simply didn't buy it.
Many milk avoiders might "happily" drink soy milk, or be willing and able to consume flavoured cow's milk, cheese or yogurt. Parents of children who can't or won't drink milk can get help from a health professional to figure out how to best meet their children's needs for calcium, protein and other nutrients.
The report also points to the importance of regular exercise, which helps build bone, and getting enough time outdoors to boost the body's synthesis of vitamin D (which helps the body absorb calcium) from exposure to sunlight.
Of the 50 children in the study, 16 suffered a total of 22 bone fractures, mostly due to "minor trips or falls incurred during play. The forearm was the most common fracture site, and most of the kids who broke their forearms were overweight.
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