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Do Teens Need Milk Like Toddlers Do?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Parents of infants, toddlers and preschoolers are well aware of the value of milk in creating strong bones and teeth. But few parents realize that exercise is also necessary to good bone formation. And even fewer parents understand that bone development – and the need for milk and action – are just as important in older childhood as they are in the early years.

Between the ages of 9 and 15, children do more growing than at any other time of their lives. Their bones grow to 90 percent of their adult size and density. Yet this is the same time that children may not get what their bones need. Unlike in their early years, when Mom and Dad made certain they drank their milk and when running around was just about all they did, older elementary school and middle-school kids may favor other beverages and other ways to spend their time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 15% of high school drink milk regularly and only 9% of high school girls do. Yet Federal health officials recommend that children between 9 and 18 get 1,300 mg of calcium each day, the equivalent of 4 or 5 glasses of milk.

Certainly kids can get calcium in other ways. Yogurt and cheese and some vegetables contain calcium. But the best source – the source that is lowest in calories and highest in calcium and vitamin D (needed for calcium absorption) – is still milk. One glass of skim milk has the same number of calories as an apple.

But calcium and vitamin D are only half the story. Exercise is essential for bone development too. One recent study found that just 15 minutes of exercise, in the form of jumping up and down between classes at school, added mass to children’s leg  bones. Older people who worry about thinning bones and osteoporosis know that exercise is needed to add bone density. Even in building the skeleton, the body follows a use-it-or-lose-it protocol: more use of the body builds the body, not just muscles but bones too.

Yet many preteens and teens do not get the exercise they need. Another recent study found that preteen boys average less than half the minimum time in active exercise needed each day and that preteen girls average less than one-third.

Here’s the bottom line: older children are younger than you think. They are still developing physically and they still need careful nutrition and plenty of exercise to develop strong bodies. But older children are easily misled into thinking that diet soda and studying hard are the keys to their future success.

Be the parent here. Help your older kids and teens make good choices, choice that will ensure their good health.



© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Dr. Anderson will be in Atlanta, GA on December 10 and 11, speaking at the National Head Start Association’s Parent Conference. Email her at [email protected] for details or to set up a presentation to your group in the Atlanta area on one of those dates.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.