Australians are being urged to monitor their children’s intake of calcium-rich foods, as well as their own, with the latest research highlighting an alarming under consumption of this essential bone-building nutrient. When it comes to their actual consumption of calcium-rich foods, such as dairy, compared to what they think they consume, Australians are falling well short.
The findings from the Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, a landmark report into the eating and exercise habits of the nation’s children, reveal that Australian children were least likely to meet the daily requirements for calcium.
According to Glenys Kerrins, Dietitian, Dairy Australia, the findings from this key research have serious implications for the future bone health of our children. "It is concerning that this alarming calcium deficiency amongst children has gone largely unreported," she said.
"The Survey reveals that a high percentage of children aged 9 to 16 years, particularly girls, are not meeting their daily calcium requirements. In fact, a staggering 82–89 percent of 12–16 year old girls did not meet the estimated average requirement for calcium," she added.
A Roy Morgan research study shows that while 52 percent of adults believe that three or more serves of dairy is a healthy daily target, only 10 percent are actually consuming enough. Older Australians aged 60 and over are the worst age group at meeting the recommended daily calcium requirements, placing them at risk of poor bone health. Only eight percent of people 60 years and over are meeting the target of consuming three serves of dairy a day.
Getting enough calcium, whatever your age, is critical for maintaining bone health and reducing the risk of fractures in later life due to osteoporosis. Many fractures are a result of simple bumps and falls such as slipping, tripping or stumbling. In fact, according to a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australians over 65 years are being hospitalised at an increasing rate due to falls. In Australia, osteoporosis affects one in two females and one in three males over the age of 60.
To ensure that you are feeding your bones the recommended dietary intake of calcium, you can use the calcium tool to test your daily levels.
Calcium Intake Calculator
Calcium is found in many foods, in particular dairy products and to a lesser degree bony fish, nuts and legumes, fruit and vegetables. It plays an important role in building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth.
Individuals need to consume sufficient amounts of calcium throughout their lifespan. Calcium requirements increase throughout childhood, peak during puberty, then stabilise until an individual is approximately 50 years old, when bone mass deteriorates and more calcium is required.
Click here to calculate your required calcium intake
This year’s National Healthy Bones Week (2–8 August 2009), a joint initiative by Dairy Australia and Osteoporosis Australia, aims to highlight the important role of calcium-rich foods, such as dairy, in the maintenance of healthy bones and the prevention of osteoporosis.
According to Naseema Sparks, CEO of Osteoporosis Australia, the good news is that it’s never too late to increase calcium intake.
"Calcium and exercise are important for growing bones, and parents need to be aware of their children’s bone health. Calcium-rich foods, such as dairy, are needed in the daily diet to help build peak bone mass among children."
Ms Sparks said, "While consuming adequate calcium for building and maintaining bones is important throughout all stages of life, the school years are a critical time for building strong bones.
"The greatest rate of bone growth takes place at puberty. A calcium-rich diet during adolescence helps maximise peak bone mass and helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in later adult years."
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Ms Sparks said, "As our age increases, our calcium requirements increase. Women over 50 and men over 70 need more calcium with recommended daily intakes rising to 1,300 mg per day."
Ms Kerrins said, "Three serves of dairy everyday (a glass of milk, tub of yoghurt and piece of cheese) can provide all of the recommended daily intake of calcium for most Australians."
She recommends that as well as at least three serves of dairy foods a day, a good way to boost intake is to choose at lease one serve as a fortified dairy product, such as milk with extra calcium added.
"Dairy products are the biggest contributor of calcium in the Australian diet and provide a whole package of bone-building nutrients including protein, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium and zinc," she said.
Ms Kerrins said that protein-rich foods, such as dairy, also helped retain muscle mass and strength which reduces the risk of falls.
‘Are You Feeding Your Bones?’ is the theme of this year’s National Healthy Bones Week.
(Source: Dairy Australia: July 2009)