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Does My Child Need To Take A Calcium Supplement?

Osteoporosis is undoubtedly a pediatric disease! What does that mean? It means that this disease that mostly affects the elderly begins in childhood, especially in adolescence. Inadequate building of bone during the early adolescent years leads to a smaller bone "bank" and a greater risk of osteoporosis in later life. With this knowledge, parents would like to know if they should be giving their child a calcium supplement, and if so, which one? The answer to this is not simple. When the Institute of Medicine recently released new guidelines for vitamin D intake they also released new guidelines for calcium intake for all ages. These new guidelines included some important recommendations for children with an emphasis on an inadequate intake by adolescent girls. The most important new recommendation is an increase in the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for children (ages 4 to 8) to 1,000 mg each day. The new RDA for adolescents (ages 9 to 18) is 1,300 mg each day. As parents know, getting to these intakes isn't that easy. For children to get their recommended intake of calcium and vitamin D, they should get 2-3 servings of dairy products and/or fortified foods (such as fortified breakfast cereal and fortified orange juice) each day. But many children don't meet these recommendations. Teenage girls often avoid dairy and have limited alternative sources of calcium. For these children, a calcium supplement may not be a bad idea. Ideally, calcium should be combined with vitamin D and it may be best to choose one that has other minerals such as magnesium and zinc. It is not usually necessary or even a great idea for children to take high doses of calcium supplements (e.g. 1,000 mg each day). A supplement with 200-500 mg each day of calcium, depending on a child's age and dietary calcium intake, should be plenty. As far as type of supplement, it isn't necessary to use expensive supplements for children. Supplements made from calcium carbonate, the most common and least expensive form, are usually well absorbed and tolerated by healthy children. For children with special health care needs, it is best to discuss the amount and form of supplement with your child's pediatrician. Please take a look at our video that describes our research into calcium needs at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center.