Why Calcium Is a Children's Health Priority

What's a simple way to improve your children's nutrition? Add milk and other calcium-rich foods to their diet.

Nutrition experts say that maintaining a diet with adequate calcium will allow a child to achieve maximum bone density. 

An important mineral

Calcium is one of the most important minerals in the body, making up 1.5 to 2 percent of total adult body weight. Besides providing the skeletal structure for bones and teeth, calcium plays a key role in many functions of the body. Calcium is important for the normal clotting of the blood, the conduction of nerve impulses, the contraction and relaxation of muscles (including the heart muscle), as well as the regulation of body fluids, hormone secretion and cell division.

In fact, calcium is so important that your body has a feedback system to maintain calcium at a constant level. Whenever the blood and bodily functions need more calcium, it is pulled from the bones, where it is stored.

Your body can't make its own calcium. The only way to get enough is to eat calcium-rich foods. And if you don't get enough calcium in your diet, you can end up with weakened bones, increasing the risk for fractures later in life.

Bone development

Calcium is essential for strong bones. Ninety-nine percent of the body's calcium lies in the bones. Although you might think of bones as inert objects, they are not. Bones are living tissues that are constantly being remodeled. Throughout your life, calcium is reabsorbed, the protein-bone matrix is remodeled and the calcium is redeposited. At any given time, 10 to 15 percent of the bone surfaces of your body are undergoing remodeling.

Calcium is also vital during childhood, when bones are actively growing. During childhood, the amount of calcium deposited in the bones increases as the bones lengthen. At this critical stage of development, the body not only needs a great deal of calcium, but it also absorbs the calcium more effectively than any other time of life. For this reason, young children need to "bank" extra calcium for bone health.

For calcium to be effective in bone growth and development, it is also important that your child get enough vitamin D. This can be done through careful sun exposure, eating vitamin D-rich foods such as fortified milk and milk products, cod liver oil and some fatty fish, or taking a vitamin supplement.

How much is enough?

The National Institutes of Health offers the following recommendations for calcium intake. A one-cup (8-ounce) serving of milk equals 300 mg of calcium.

  • Infants younger than 6 months: 200 mg of calcium

  • Infants between 7 months and age 1: 260 mg of calcium

  • Children between ages 1 and 3: 700 mg of calcium

  • Children between ages 4 and 8: 1000 mg of calcium

  • Children between ages 9 and 13: 1,300 mg of calcium

  • Teens: 1,300 mg of calcium

Some of the most common sources of calcium are from dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Other sources include calcium-fortified soy milk and juices, canned salmon (with bones) and sardines, and dark green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and kale.