America's youth are in a calcium crisis - they need more milk and milk products more often

March is National Nutrition Month, the time when dietitians and other health professionals encourage all of us to pay attention to what we eat. This annual call to action to make informed food choices is even more important for growing kids and teens.March is National Nutrition Month, the time when dietitians and other health professionals encourage all of us to pay attention to what we eat. This annual call to action to make informed food choices is even more important for growing kids and teens.

America's youth are in a calcium crisis -- they need more milk and milk products more often. During teen years, half of all bone is formed and about 15 percent of adult height is added.

"The positive link between the calcium in dairy and good bone health has been established by decades of research," says Greg Miller, Ph.D. and vice president of nutrition research for the National Dairy Council. "Milk and milk products play a valuable role in the diet, and it's extremely difficult to get the calcium kids need without them."

Bone health is an important issue for kids and teens who are in a critical stage of development when it comes to building strong bones. Yet currently there are an estimated 34 million people at risk for osteoporosis, according to the 2004 Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis. The report emphasizes the importance of prevention strategies such as including calcium and vitamin D-rich foods -- like milk, cheese and yogurt -- in the diet.

In addition, the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines highlight calcium as a "nutrient of concern" among children and adolescents and recommend dairy (3 servings a day) because milk and milk products provide so many of the key nutrients that Americans are lacking in their diet.

Research from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, by prominent calcium and bone expert Robert P. Heaney, MD, of Creighton University in Omaha suggests that a diet devoid of milk and milk products could lead to bone fractures. Heaney's review of 139 studies exploring the relationship between bone health and calcium intake, which included more than 50 controlled interventions, is one of the most comprehensive analysis of the research on the connection between dairy and bone strength.

Dr. Heaney isn't alone in advocating a calcium-rich diet. The consensus among medical and nutrition experts is that milk and milk products are very important for healthy bones. Many other health and nutrition experts agree on milk and milk products for healthy bones.

In addition, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has for several years run an extensive, publicly funded education program called "Milk Matters," which focuses on why milk is essential in the bone development of kids and teens.

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