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Too Little Milk

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Wednesday, December 26th, 2007 Emily Halevy | CWK Producer

“You develop 40 percent of your bone mass during your adolescent growth spurt. Once your adolescence is over, that is really the end of your opportunity to build bone mass. And particularly in women, you begin to lose bone mass every year.”

– Dr. Rhonda Jeffries, M.D., pediatrician

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When our children are little, we repeat the same message over and over again: “Drink your milk! It’s good for your bones!”  But as kids enter the middle school and high school years, many parents aren’t so insistent anymore. And that may affect their children’s health decades later.

“I usually drink diet Coke…sometimes water,” says one student.
“Probably Coke or water, but usually Coke,” says another student.
Still another high school student says, “As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen milk intake go down and down and down; it seems unfashionable to drink milk.”

According to a new study from Penn State University, kids 9 to 18 years old should drink three to four glasses of milk a day. Instead, most children in this age group are drinking less than two cups a day.

“In the first two years of life, children generally get enough calcium. In the first year they are usually on breast milk or formula, which gives them the calcium. And usually even in the second year of life they drink quite a bit of milk. But after that period of time the intake of calcium greatly goes down,” says Dr. Rhonda Jeffries, M.D., pediatrician. 

Jeffries says if children and teens don’t drink enough milk, they may not get enough calcium when they need it most.
“You develop 40 percent of your bone mass during your adolescent growth spurt. Once your adolescence is over, that is really the end of your opportunity to build bone mass. And particularly in women, you begin to lose bone mass every year. So if you don’t have enough [bone mass] to begin with, it really puts you at risk for osteoporosis as you grow into adulthood,” says Jeffries.

Jeffries says that if adolescents don’t get enough calcium, their future may be similar to Edith Schraibman’s. Schraibman, 88, has osteoporosis; her bones are brittle and weak. In fact, she’s broken so many bones she’s lost count.

“You want a ballpark number? I’d say 10 to15,” says Schraibman.

Experts say there are other ways to get calcium besides drinking milk — through mineral supplements, vitamins and low-fat dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese.

“But probably the easiest way to get the calcium requirement is to drink milk,” says Jeffries.

Ten million Americans have osteoporosis, but it is often called “the silent disease” because bone loss happens slowly, without sudden and obvious symptoms.

What We Need To Know

  • Milk and other calcium-rich foods have always been a must-have in children’s and teens’ diets, because calcium is a key building block for strong, healthy bones. (Nemours Foundation)
  • During childhood and adolescence, the body uses the mineral calcium to build strong bones — a process is virtually complete by the end of the teen years. Bone calcium begins to decrease in young adulthood and progressive loss of bone occurs as we age, particularly in women. (Nemours Foundation)
  • These are the current recommendations for calcium intake:  (Nemours Foundation)
    • Toddlers ages 1 to 2 years — 500 milligrams of calcium daily
    • Kids ages 4 to 8 years — 800 milligrams
    • Older children and teens ages 9 to 18 years — 1,300 milligrams
  • Milk and other dairy products are among the best and most convenient sources of calcium. Experts recommend the following regarding who should get which type of milk at what age: (Nemours Foundation)
  • Infants under 1 year should not have whole milk or milk products at all because of the possibility of a milk allergy. Provide breast milk or infant formula as your baby’s major source of nutrition during the first year.
  • Children between 1 and 2 years old should have whole milk to help provide the dietary fats they need for normal growth and brain development.
  • After age 2, most kids can switch to low-fat or nonfat milk, although you should discuss this with your child’s doctor first.
  • Discuss calcium supplements with your child’s doctor if you’re concerned that your child or teenager isn’t getting enough calcium.  (Nemours Foundation)


  • Nemours Foundation

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