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Bone health and girls

You may have heard about the need to build strong bones. But what exactly do girls need for bone health? Here are answers to some commonly asked questions.

Why do girls need to think about bone health? arrow top

Childhood and the teen years are peak bone-building years. A poor diet and not enough physical activity in the teen and preteen years can increase the risk of osteoporosis (say: OSS-tee-oh-puh-ROH-suhss) later in life. Osteoporosis is a disease that makes bones break easily. It is called a silent disease because bone loss occurs without symptoms. While osteoporosis can strike at any age, more than half of all women over age 65 have it. You can work with girls to develop diet and exercise habits that will help them have healthy bones throughout their lives.

What is "bone-strengthening" activity? arrow top

Bone-strengthening activities produce a force on the bones and promote bone growth and strength. Examples of bone-strengthening activities include walking, running, tennis, dancing, tae kwon do, hiking, hopscotch, and basketball.

Biking and swimming are not as good for building bones. That's because the water or bicycle lessens the force that helps build bones. These activities do help overall health, though.

What about calcium and vitamin D? arrow top

Along with exercise, girls need calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones.

  • Calcium helps bones to develop properly. The body uses calcium to build new bone. Calcium is also needed for many other activities within the body. If a girl doesn’t eat enough calcium, her body may take the calcium from her bones, which can make them weaker.
  • Vitamin D helps the body use calcium. Lots of foods have calcium, but vitamin D can be harder to find. Foods such as milk, cereal, and yogurt may be fortified with vitamin D.

The recommended amount of calcium for girls age 9 to 18 is 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day. Girls need 600 IU (15 mcg) of vitamin D per day. You can read the Nutrition Facts label on food packages to learn how much of each nutrient is in one serving. You also can check out a chart listing the calcium content of foods and drinks that many young girls like.

Should girls take a calcium supplement? Is it possible to get too much calcium? arrow top

Girls can get plenty of calcium from food. It is found in a variety of good-tasting foods like milk, yogurt, broccoli, and cheese. Many foods also have calcium added to them, such as orange juice, breakfast cereals, cereal bars, and soy drinks. You can check a food’s Nutrition Facts label to see if it has added calcium. Some girls might have allergies or other dietary restrictions that mean they get less calcium. You can ask a pediatrician whether your girl needs calcium supplements. Most girls can get enough calcium by eating the right types of foods.

It is possible to get too much calcium, but it is not likely for most girls. Even with all the products that have added calcium, most girls get far less calcium each day than the recommended 1,300 mg.

Can girls get enough calcium and vitamin D if they have lactose intolerance? arrow top

Lactose intolerance means a person gets a stomachache or gas after eating milk or other dairy products. The good news is that some milk and other dairy products are specially made for people with lactose intolerance. You can also buy pills to take with dairy that help digest it. In addition, other foods have calcium, such as broccoli, almonds, and foods fortified with calcium like orange juice and cereals. But if a girl doesn’t eat dairy, it can be hard to get enough vitamin D, so read food labels carefully, and ask her doctor if she needs a vitamin D supplement pill.

Are dairy products the best way to build strong bones? arrow top

Dairy products are a very important part of an adolescent's diet. They provide calcium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients. Some people worry that milk and other dairy products are fattening. But it is easy to get low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products. There are good non-dairy sources of calcium. But dairy products usually offer a lot more calcium per serving.

What else can adolescents do to promote their bone health? arrow top

It is important for girls to not drink alcohol or smoke. Those behaviors can hurt bone health (and overall health, of course). It is also important to have a healthy diet with enough calcium and vitamin D. That's why girls with eating disorders face an extra risk of developing weaker bones. Girls should also avoid eating too much sodium, which can cause their bodies to lose calcium and cause other health problems, such as high blood pressure.

How can girls take part in bone-strengthening activity while staying indoors? arrow top

There are plenty of indoor bone-strengthening activities that girls can do. They can try dancing, lifting hand-held weights (or soup cans), jogging in place, and push-ups, for example.

What kinds of bone-building exercises can girls with physical disabilities do? arrow top

There are a number of bone-building exercises available to girls with physical disabilities. These include resistance training, which uses elastic bands and hand weights. You can read about more bone-building exercises for girls with disabilities.

How can I learn more about helping girls build healthy bones? arrow top

The Best Bones Forever! website for parents offers helpful information, including activity tips and recipes


Content last reviewed May 17, 2011
Page last updated October 30, 2014