Hundreds of nutritionists, US government officials and leading researchers gathered in Washington, DC last month to develop an action plan to address a critical health concern facing children and adolescents: calcium deficiency.
US government data indicates that calcium intake remains dangerously low in the diets of children and adolescents.
"Poor eating patterns are partly to blame for this shortfall, with over-consumption of low nutrient foods and under-consumption of nutrient-rich foods such as milk," according to Marc Jacobson, professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Schneider Children's Hospital, and one of the Calcium Summit II speakers.
The problem is particularly evident for teens: nearly nine out of 10 girls and seven out of 10 boys fail to meet current calcium recommendations (1,300 mg per day for ages 9-18 years).
Calcium Summit II, jointly sponsored by the National Dairy Council (NDC), Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) and the American College of Nutrition (ACN), highlighted research that indicates that calcium consumed during adolescence may be one of the single most important factors determining a child's future risk of osteoporosis.
One contributory factor to the decline in milk consumption was attributed to brand fizzy drinks that have replaced the traditional lunchtime milk in the US. Soft drink and snack companies are allowed to aggressively market and sell their products directly to children in schools.
"Teenagers drink twice as much soda as milk, and this trade-off, combined with a lack of exercise, may be laying the groundwork for weak bones in adulthood. Research reveals a link between heavy soft drink consumption during adolescence and reduced bone mass, which can greatly increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life," said Jacobson.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) was one of more than 40 organisations that supported the mission of Calcium Summit II to help America's youth make improved dietary choices to achieve optimal calcium intakes.
"So many of us see children in our offices who are replacing milk and other calcium-rich foods with excessive amounts of juice or colas," said Laura Tosi, a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. "We at AAOS believe that, as health professionals, it is important for us to find ways to encourage milk-drinking habits while kids are in the growing years to help reduce the risk of bone fractures."
Participants at the Calcium Summit II aimed to develop an "agenda for action" to address the widespread calcium deficiencies among children and teenagers. These action steps include: showing parents how children can easily get at least three servings of dairy a day and encouraging parents to be role models for their children by consuming dairy products at mealtime, too; offering more milk varieties in schools and fewer soft drinks; increasing awareness with paediatricians to include a calcium check-up in their back to school physicals.
As a first action step, the NDC and MilkPEP announced a new programme providing $30,000 (€35,000) in nutrition education grants for community-based programmes to help increase calcium intake among youth.
Full details on the Calcium Summit II are found on the www.nationaldairycouncil.org website.