Osteoporosis is one of the most common chronic diseases in the world. This metabolic bone disease, which is characterized by increased bone fragility, impacts more than 200 million people annually. In total, 1 in 5 men and 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures in their lifetime.
But there is some silver lining. By starting early and focusing on bone health during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, it’s possible to dramatically reduce the risk of osteoporosis and/or delay its onset.
Bone Health and Childhood Development
Bone growth is one of the more important aspects of a child’s physical development from their early years up through adolescence. And unbeknownst to many, the amount of bone mass an individual obtains during these younger years directly impacts skeletal health throughout their lifetime. In other words, the more bone mass you acquire as a child, the greater protection you have against losing bone mass later in life.
“We tend to think of young children and teenagers as being strong and energetic, but we have to remember that their bodies are still very much in developmental stages,” says Giridhar Gundu, MD, a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist with Palmetto Bone & Joint . “Now is the time to prioritize healthy lifestyle choices.”
While most people think about preventing osteoporosis in terms of strengthening bones once you reach your 50s, 60s, or 70s, the reality is that the best prevention plans are implemented decades earlier.
The Risk Factors for Poor Bone Health
While every parent and child should be focused on strengthening bones to offset the risk of osteoporosis later in life, certain groups of children face a much greater risk for poor bone health. They include:
Children with conditions that make it difficult to properly absorb nutrients – like celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Infants with low birth weight (including premature infants) who have a below-average bone mass for the first few months of life.
Children who take certain medications, like steroids, to treat chronic diseases (such as asthma sufferers).
Children who live relatively inactive and sedentary lifestyles.
Proactive Ways to Prevent Osteoporosis
Regardless of whether your child is considered relatively healthy, or your child faces a high risk factor for poor bone health, smart, proactive steps must be taken now to prevent osteoporosis later in life. Here are a few suggestions:
Children can promote healthy bone growth by consuming the right vitamins and nutrients. In particular, you’ll want to ensure your child is getting adequate vitamin C and vitamin D. For healthy doses of vitamin C, encourage them to eat tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, and citrus fruits. Vitamin D can be found in fish oils and fortified dairy products. (Exposure to sunlight can also stimulate the vitamin in the body.)
There’s ample research to suggest that regular fitness and physical activity can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures later in life. According to the CDC, children ages 6 through 17 should get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity every day. (Weight-bearing activities like running and walking are especially helpful.)
Healthy life habits start in childhood and extend into adulthood. To protect bones from premature damage and decline, children should be encouraged to avoid smoking and alcohol consumption, maintain a healthy weight, eat a well-balanced diet, and stay active. As a parent, you can model these behaviors for your child.
Palmetto Bone & Joint
Bone, joint, and musculoskeletal health are just as important (if not more so) in children as it is in adults. At Palmetto Bone & Joint, it’s our mission to provide both pediatric and adult patients with the services, treatments, and rehabilitation necessary to enjoy optimum health and minimal pain.
Contact us today to learn more about scheduling an appointment with one of our experienced physicians.