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Bone health and girls

A girl dancing.

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 is bone health important for girls? arrow. top

Childhood and the teen years are peak bone-building years. A poor diet and little or no physical activity in these 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. You can work with girls to develop eating 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, hiking, hopscotch, and basketball. There are plenty of indoor bone-strengthening activities that girls can do. They can try dancing, walking up stairs, using a fitness DVD, and doing push-ups, for example.

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 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 get enough calcium from food, 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.

A girl can get the right amount of calcium by eating a bowl of cereal and a cup of yogurt and drinking 2 cups of nonfat milk. She can get the right amount of vitamin D from 3 ounces of salmon and 2 cups of milk. You can read the Nutrition Facts label on food packages to learn the percent of calcium and vitamin D that is in one serving of a food. You also can check out a chart listing the calcium content of foods and drinks that many young girls like.

Are you wondering if your girl needs calcium supplements? Most girls can get enough calcium by eating the right types of foods. Lots of foods have calcium in them, such as milk, yogurt, broccoli, and cheese. Many foods also have calcium added to them, such as fortified orange juice, breakfast cereals, and soy drinks. Some girls might have allergies or other issues that mean they get less calcium. If you're concerned, ask your pediatrician whether your girl needs calcium supplements.

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.

Are dairy products best for 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 non-fat milk and dairy products. There are good non-dairy sources of calcium, but dairy products usually offer a lot more calcium per serving.

Some girls have lactose intolerance, which means they get a stomachache or gas after eating milk or other dairy products. The good news is that some dairy products are specially made for people with lactose intolerance. There also are tablets that can help with digesting dairy. In addition, other foods have calcium, including broccoli, almonds, and fortified orange juice and cereals, which also are good choices for vegans.

Keep in mind that if a girl doesn't eat dairy, it can be hard to get enough vitamin D, so read food labels carefully, and ask a doctor if she needs a vitamin D supplement pill.

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 balanced, healthy diet. That's why girls with eating disorders face an extra risk of developing weaker bones. You can learn more about eating disorders. 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.

What can girls with physical disabilities do to promote their bone health? 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 March 27, 2015
Page last updated June 29, 2015