Changing children's diets today could reduce bone problems 70 years from now

Note: The text of this release has been edited since its original posting (10/27/99).

PHILADELPHIA--Most of us don't look at groups of 10-year-olds and envision them as bone-weary senior citizens, but that's the kind of long-range thinking behind a nutrition intervention program at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. By having children increase their consumption of calcium now, the program aims to keep their bones strong and healthy past the middle of the 21st century. Through a combination of health education, sophisticated measuring devices and structured rewards for the participating children, the goal is to improve eating habits, one meal at a time.

Children who regularly drink milk and eat other foods high in calcium may lower their risks in later life of suffering osteoporosis, the reduction in bone mass and bone density that leaves many older people vulnerable to disabling falls and broken bones. "A small shift in a population's dietary habits can drastically reduce the number of 80-year-olds with fractures," says nutritional anthropologist Babette S. Zemel, Ph.D., scientific director of the Nutrition and Growth Laboratory at Children's Hospital and the principal investigator of the project.

Osteoporosis currently exacts high human costs, in loss of independence and higher mortality rates after elderly people suffer fractures. Osteoporosis affects an estimated 25 million Americans, with a price tag of approximately $13.8 billion per year in increased hospitalization, medical and nursing home costs. But future costs could be reduced dramatically with dietary changes during the pre-adolescent years. "Before puberty is the important time to get calcium, before the body begins growing rapidly in adolescence," says Dr. Zemel. "Adults can receive some benefits from taking calcium supplements, but the improvements are limited." Thanks to a recent five-year grant award from the National Institutes of He

Contact: Kajsa Haracz
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

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