Eating calcium-rich dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt during childhood and adolescence will help build strong bones and reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life, according to a report released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)(1). The report stresses the importance of parental role modeling, physical activity and calls for pediatricians to regularly check whether their patients are getting enough calcium.

The report comes at a critical time, with USDA data indicating that 7 out of 10 teen boys and 9 out of 10 teen girls are not getting the calcium they need(2,3). Calcium is important for the development of peak bone mass.

"The AAP recommends children eat three servings of milk, flavored milk, cheese or yogurt a day," says Frank Greer, MD, FAAP (Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics), chairman of the AAP Committee on Nutrition, and author of the report. "While there's no cure for osteoporosis, eating 3-4 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods will help children get the calcium they need to build strong bones, which will benefit them throughout life."

Dairy does it best

The report indicates that most people can meet their calcium needs by consuming 3 servings of milk, flavored milk, cheese or yogurt each day, choosing low-fat varieties often. Seventy-two percent of dietary calcium in the U.S. food supply comes from milk and other dairy foods. In addition to calcium, milk is the number one source of several key nutrients in the American diet, including potassium, phosphorous and magnesium(4). In fact, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, appointed by the United States Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA), recognized that people who consume more dairy foods have better overall diets, consume more nutrients and see improved bone health.

Milk is also an excellent source of vitamin D, which aids in calcium's absorption and retention and also is recommended by the AAP for the development of strong bones.

Not surprisingly, research has shown that children who regularly avoid milk have lower bone mineral density and have more bone fractures(5).

Role modeling healthy habits

The AAP report also highlights the importance of meeting calcium recommendations for the entire family.

"We know that children's healthy eating habits are established early in life, and the primary role models are parents," says registered dietitian Rebecca Reeves, president of the American Dietetic Association. "Parents can encourage their kids to make healthful food choices by including three servings of low-fat dairy foods in their own diet every day."

Are you sure your child gets enough calcium?

The report recommends physicians make it a priority to assess calcium adequacy with a simple questionnaire several times during childhood and adolescence, beginning at 2 to 3 years of age.

A new tool to help parents determine if they and their family are getting enough calcium is available on The questionnaire, developed jointly by the AAP and National Dairy Council (NDC) as part of the 3-A-Day of Dairy for Stronger Bones program, provides questions, answers and guidance for parents that they can discuss with their pediatrician or a registered dietitian.

Even children and adolescents who are sensitive to lactose (the natural sugar found in milk) can enjoy the health benefits of dairy foods. The AAP report identified simple strategies to make dairy easier to digest. Almost all children can drink small amounts of milk at meals, drink lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk, eat yogurt, or consume hard cheeses like Cheddar or Swiss that are naturally low in lactose.


(1) American Academy of Pediatrics, Optimizing bone health and calcium intakes of infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2006; 117 (2):578-585.
(2) USDA's 1994-96 continuing survey of food intakes by individuals and 1994-96 diet and knowledge survey. Riverdale, MD: US Department of Agriculture; 1999. Available at: Search under "Food Surveys."
(3) Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1997.
(4) Murphy M, et al. Beverages as a source of energy and nutrients in diets of children and adolescents. Experimental Biology 2005.
(5) Goulding A, et al. Children who avoid drinking cow's milk are at increased risk for prepubertal bone fractures. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2004; 104(2):250-253.
(6) GFK CRI Ad Tracker, November 2005.
(7) Health Professionals Dairy Nutrition Tracking Study, GFK Custom Research Inc. 2005.

Source: National Dairy Council