Oct. 3, 2003 -- Across the country, doctors are reporting a steady increase in the number of children with broken bones.
"The fact of the matter is that children are breaking [bones] all over," said Dr. Laura Tosi, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "It's a very high incidence of elbow fractures, as well as fractures in the mid-part of the arm, and in the hand."
A recently published study by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found that over the last 30 years the number of forearm fractures in that city has climbed more than 32 percent in boys, and 56 percent in girls.
Researchers say they are not sure why the fracture rate is rising. But they suspect a major reason is that children are not getting enough calcium, which is essential for strong bones.
"Calcium deficiency is the major dietary deficiency in America's children today," Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told ABCNEWS.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 86 percent of teenage girls and 64 percent of teenage boys are "calcium deficient"; in other words, they lack the recommended daily amount (RDA) of calcium, which is 1,300 milligrams, the equivalent of about four 8-ounce glasses of milk a day.
"Over the last 20 to 30 years, there's been a shift away from milk as the standard drink at meals and for increased use of soft drinks and juices, and other drinks by kids at all ages," said Alexander.
Much Greater Long-Term Risk
Calcium from milk is considered ideal because it's highly concentrated and easily absorbed by the body. Milk also contains potassium, magnesium and protein that are essential for healthy bones.
"Without adequate milk consumption it's virtually impossible for a child to get the calcium intake they need in their diets," said Alexander.
And a child has critical calcium needs.
Calcium is effective at building bones, but researchers say only until the age of 20. After that, regardless of how much you take, bone mass does not increase, and the slow process of bone loss soon begins.
"One of the major concerns that we have," Alexander said, " is that there is no make-up time. If you don't get all the calcium you need in childhood you can't go back and make up for it in adult life because it doesn't get in there." The best calcium can do for adults is slow the loss of bone.
So calcium-deficient children today are at much greater risk of developing osteoporosis as they age, and even more broken bones.