For young children, calcium and vitamin D are absolutely essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Children from birth to age five grow very quickly, and they rapidly develop bone, teeth and muscle. At this young age, parents should remember to monitor their child’s calcium and vitamin D intake to prevent health concerns.
Below are some common questions patients often ask me about calcium and vitamin D:
What are the risks of my child not getting enough calcium and vitamin D?
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons provides information on why calcium and vitamin D are so important. Children who aren’t getting enough calcium and vitamin D can be at increased risk for poor bone density, bone fractures, weaker muscles and rickets. Children and adolescents are in their prime bone-building years, and children who don’t absorb enough calcium for strong bones now can experience health concerns as adults.
Calcium is not made in the body, and must be absorbed from the foods we eat. When dietary intake is poor, the body will “steal” calcium from the bones, which contributes to poor bone health in children. Sometimes, a child can be consuming enough calcium, but not properly absorbing it. That’s where vitamin D comes in. Vitamin D helps children absorb calcium, which results in strong bones and teeth, and good overall health.
What can I do to make sure my child gets enough calcium and vitamin D?
There are some simple steps to making sure your child has every opportunity to absorb calcium and build strong bones, teeth and muscles.
- Encourage a diet rich in calcium. Calcium is found in dairy products including milk, yogurt and cheese.
- If your child is dairy avoidant, there are other foods that are rich in calcium, including green leafy vegetables like kale and broccoli, sardines, salmon, tofu, breads, pastas, and calcium-fortified cereals and juices.
- If your child isn’t getting enough calcium through dietary intake, consider calcium supplements. The recommended dose is 200-800mg per day for very young children, depending on the age and size of the child.
If your child is getting plenty of calcium, that doesn’t always mean they’re absorbing it for optimal bone and teeth health. To be sure a young child is absorbing calcium, it’s also important to get vitamin D.
- Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” is easier to make in the summer months. During the winter, or if your child doesn’t get enough sun exposure, they might be vitamin D deficient.
- Unless there is an indication against it, children should be allowed to play outside, without sunscreen, for about 30 minutes a day, two or three times a week. Although sunscreen is highly recommended to protect the skin, short amounts of time in the sun without sunscreen will allow your child to absorb vitamin D.
- If your child isn’t getting enough vitamin D, consider a supplement. The recommended dose for good bone health is 400 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D for infants during the first year of life, and up to 1000 IU per day for children older than one year old.
If you’re concerned that your child isn’t getting enough calcium or vitamin D, a doctor can order a blood test to determine levels and can prescribe supplements.
If you have additional questions, you can always reach out to your primary care physician or pediatric orthopedic specialist. To schedule an appointment with me or anyone at Rocky Mountain Pediatric Orthopedics, call 303-861-2663 or visit our website.
** This blog post was written to serve as informational guidance about calcium and vitamin D. It should not be taken as concrete medical advice, nor do the views above reflect the views of the HealthONE organization. As with any medical questions or concerns, it’s imperative to make an appointment with your physician for proper counseling.
K. Brooke Pengel, MD, is a board-certified pediatric sports medicine specialist at Rocky Mountain Pediatric Orthopedics with 15 years of experience devoted to treating youth sports injuries. She received her medical degree from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and completed her pediatric residency at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Pengel brings nationally-recognized skills and talents to the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, where she is dedicated to providing expert care for young athletes.