Bone health begins with basic care very early in life. Sooner rather than later makes it crucial for growing children as healthy bones lay the foundation for overall health and wellbeing throughout life. Taking care of children with regard to health in general takes up much of parents’ attention, but here are some considerations that affect bone development in youngsters and must therefore form a focal point of all good parenting.

The value of foundation

  • Peak bone mass is the maximum bone density and strength that a person achieves, usually in their late twenties – and achieving this means good habits must be applied early in life. During childhood, the rate of bone formation exceeds the rate of bone resorption, contributing to bone growth – so this is the best time to make haste.
  • Childhood and adolescence present a critical period because the bones grow and mineralise at an accelerated rate – therefore achieving optimal peak bone mass during this time is vital to ensuring greater prevention of osteoporosis and fractures later in life.
  • Bones provide the structural framework for the body, supporting muscles and protecting vital organs. Bones are intrinsically involved in mobility, enabling proper movement and physical activity, which are essential for a child’s growth and overall physical development.
  • Children experience significant growth spurts, particularly during puberty. Proper bone health ensures that bones grow correctly in terms of length and strength, thus avoiding stunted growth and conditions such as scoliosis or rickets.

Good diet decisions

  • Lack of Vitamin D and calcium in early childhood can lead to soft, weak bones, heralding the potential condition of rickets, and setting for bones poor development. So Diet is extremely important during the formative years.
  • While osteoporosis is typically a condition seen in older adults, its roots can often be traced back to bone health during childhood. This is another reason to make sure your child gets every opportunity to build strong bones during childhood, thus reducing the risk of osteoporosis and related fractures in later life. These measures are especially important during puberty, as this is the time where growth spurts occur, and healthy habits are needed!
  • It’s during childhood that calcium plays its vital role as an essential mineral for bone development and strength. So regular intake of high sources of calcium is important; dairy products, leafy green vegetables, fortified foods, and certain fish are excellent sources of calcium.
  • Playing its part after the ingestion of calcium is our sun-friendly Vitamin D, which is essential for calcium absorption and bone growth. Apart from direct exposure to sunlight, fatty fish, fortified foods, and supplements are primary sources of Vitamin D. So get your kids out in the sun as often as possible – no slouching in front of the television!
  • Protein plays a keen role here as well, working with calcium to build strong bones, and adding to the work that magnesium and zinc contribute in the tasks of bone matrix formation and growth.
  • A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains supports overall health and bone development. Avoid processed foods and sugary drinks, maintain a healthy weight – all of which helps to reduce stress on bones.

Jumping, running, climbing, skipping

Along with good diet comes the next essential – which is physical activity. Regular movement and general engagement in sports will stimulate bone growth and increase bone density, helping bones to become stronger and more resilient.
Exercises that build muscle strength, such as climbing and gymnastics, also stimulate bone formation. Physical activity promotes overall health, including cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength, which indirectly benefits bone health.

Keeping a check on your child

Regular pediatric check-ups ensure that your child’s growth is on track and that any potential bone health issues are identified early. Keep in mind that blood tests can screen for Vitamin D and calcium deficiencies, allowing for timely intervention. The value of early diagnosis assists in detecting long-term complications such as hormonal imbalances or chronic illnesses.

Bone health is a fundamental right of a child’s growth and development. Our responsibility to our children must be to ensure they are able to build strong bones that will support them throughout their lives, giving them the gift of lifelong health and overall wellbeing.

NOFSA (National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa)

NOFSA is the only non-profit, voluntary health organisation dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health. We focus on reducing the widespread prevalence of osteoporosis while working to find a cure for the disease, and by supporting research and developing programmes of education and advocacy.

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