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Back to Bone Health and Osteoporosis

Bone Health: Studies in Children and Adolescents

There is consistent evidence that milk and milk products play an important role in the development of strong and healthy bones in children and adolescents and in helping them achieve peak bone mass.

Highlights:

  • An adequate intake of milk and milk products during growth may help children and adolescents achieve maximal peak bone mass;
  • A greater bone mass may help decrease fracture risk;
  • Consuming milk products may also promote linear growth (i.e., height) during childhood.

The Evidence

In 2016, the National Osteoporosis Foundation published a systematic review on lifestyle factors (from childhood through young to late adolescence) that influence maximal peak bone mass. The article states that “optimizing bone accrual during growth may be of greatest significance in preventing current or future fractures.” Furthermore, it was concluded that:1

  • There is good evidence regarding the role of dairy consumption in promoting the development of peak bone mass.

In a 2014 systematic review of the association between dairy products and health outcomes in developed countries, the results indicated that:2

  • Dairy products are important for linear growth and bone health during childhood.

Additionally, a meta-analysis of 12 interventional studies investigated the association between dairy consumption and growth among children aged 3 to 13 years. The authors found the following:3

  • The addition of 245 mL of milk per day to a regular diet may increase height by 0.4 cm per year of growth;
  • The effect size of 0.4 cm is nonetheless considered conservative since having a lower height-for-age and approaching a pubertal growth spurt would increase the effect of milk products on height;
  • Milk may have more effect on growth than other milk products.

Another meta-analysis of 21 randomized controlled trials of 3,821 children aged 4 to 17 years was conducted to determine the impact of milk products and dietary calcium on bone mass.4

  • In studies conducted on children with low calcium intakes at baseline, the authors observed significant benefits from milk product consumption or calcium supplement use on bone mineral content;
  • An increased intake of milk products or dietary calcium, with and without vitamin D, significantly increased total lumbar spine bone mineral content in children with low baseline calcium intakes.

Moreover, a previous meta-analysis of case-control studies had suggested that the acquisition of maximal peak bone mass likely reduces fracture risk during childhood and adolescence.5

Conclusion

Childhood and adolescence are critical periods for the development of bones. The scientific evidence to date suggests that an adequate intake of milk products and dietary calcium optimizes bone development, which results in denser and stronger bones and which, in turn, may decrease the risk of fractures in childhood as well as later in life.

Keywords: children , adolescents , bone health


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