Build Better Bones: Prevent Osteoporosis Early

Dr. Marie Savard's advice on how teens can prevent bone loss later in life.

September 23, 2009, 8:09 AM

Sept. 23, 2009— -- If you think osteoporosis is something teens don't need to worry about … think again.

According to the National Institutes of Health, osteoporosis is a health threat for 44 million Americans, 68 percent of whom are women. One out of every two women and one out of every four men age 50 and older will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.

The best time to combat that threat of osteoporosis and low-bone density comes during the teenage years, because 90 percent of a woman's bone mass is accumulated by the time she is 18.

"GMA" medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard has advice on what you can do to protect your teen's bones. Savard, who is being honored for her work by the National Osteoporosis Foundation, said that "we can teach our young girls how to develop these habits for a lifetime.

"I take care of a lot of older women who are worried about being frail," she explained. "We can prevent these future complications and increase independence."

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Increase Calcium and Vitamin D in Diet

Savard said that 85 percent of teenage girls aren't getting enough calcium, and 70 percent of children don't get enough vitamin D.

Minimum daily recommendation:

Calcium is the major building block of bones, Savard explained. Without enough, you don't have a foundation for bone density. She compares it to the foundation of a house -- if you don't have a strong foundation, the house is weak. Calcium "llays the foundation for your bones for a lifetime," she said.

And vitamin D is essential for calcium to get absorbed properly.

"Without the vitamin D you're not going to get the calcium," Savard said, explaining that the two go hand in hand.

Combating Osteoporosis During the Teen Years

The Most Important Meal of the Day

To make sure their teens are protected, Savard said parents should make sure they eat breakfast with calcium and vitamin D, most commonly found in milk and dairy products.

"The single most important thing to do for your kids is to have them eat a healthy breakfast," Savard said.

Sodas are a common breakfast drink for teens, but Savard recommends starting the day with milk, yogurt and fortified cereals.

"Breakfast really starts the foundation," Savard said. "It gets the kids in the habit."

Get Enough Exercise

Savard also recommends at least an hour of exercise a day.

"We recommend that young kids get up to 60 minutes a day," she said. "The more you tug on your bones -- the running, jogging builds the strong bones. Get these kids active. They're sitting in front of the TV."

Even walking with a backpack tugs on the bones and encourages bone growth. Most of bone growth is achieved by age 18. "By age 30, it's over; you start losing [bone density]," Savard said.

Anything that gives teens a combination of cardiovascular and strength training is good for their overall health and helps build bones.

Combating Osteoporosis During the Teen Years

Take Supplements

Supplements can also help build bones and prevent osteoporosis. It's difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone, Savard said. And although you can get enough calcium through your diet if you try, not everyone can tolerate that much dairy.

"Young kids sometimes have an allergy to dairy products," Savard said. "If your child is not able to get enough calcium and vitamin D, talk to your doctor about supplements."

She said supplements "do work when it comes to replacing calcium and vitamin D. There are a lot of good ones out there."

For more great information and interactives about building bone density, CLICK HERE to visit the BestBonesForever Web site.