Do you have a child who is ravenously hungry, intensely sleepy and growing out of clothes and shoes at a budget-breaking pace? Welcome to the adolescent growth spurt.
While the most visible changes to the body happen externally, significant changes are also taking place internally. Bones grow through a process called remodeling, where older bones are broken down, removed and replaced by new bone. Ninety percent of this bone growth occurs between the ages of 10 and 20.
Taking steps to develop strong bones during growth spurts may improve health later in life. The National Institutes of Health says that bone mass attained in childhood and adolescence is an important determinant of lifelong skeletal health. A systematic review by the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) highlights several lifestyle factors that help children and adolescents achieve optimal bone health, which reduces risk of osteoporosis.
NOF researchers found strong evidence that calcium intake improves bone accumulation and growth and only moderate evidence that vitamin D has the same effect. The NOF also suggests that dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C, often found in fruits and vegetables, are important nutrients for bone health.
The same NOF review found strong evidence that physical activity improves bone growth but more study is needed to quantify the amount needed. It said, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees, that a reasonable suggestion is three sessions per week of an activity that produces a force on the bones, typically by impact with the ground. It suggested 100 impacts per session – say 100 jumping jacks.
Research included in the review also pointed to foods that may impede bone growth. Carbonated beverage and cola consumption were associated with reduced bone mass and strength as well as a higher likelihood of incurring bone fractures. The studies’ results were mixed on possible reasons for the connection.
To help your teens strengthen their bones through adolescence, consider encouraging them to:
- Eat foods high in calcium, such as dairy products, kale and salmon.
- Avoid sodium, which causes your body to lose calcium.
- Eat foods high in vitamin D, such as tuna, yogurt and egg yolks.
- Avoid soft drinks.
- Do bone-strengthening activities three times per week, such as running, jumping rope, or playing basketball or tennis.
- Eat produce high in potassium, magnesium and vitamin C.
When your teen seems to sprout inches within days, recognize that new clothing isn’t your child’s only need. Help ensure they are receiving the proper nutrition and exercise to build bones that can support them throughout adulthood.