While many people view osteoporosis as a disease that only affects the elderly, children need calcium and other nutrients to build strong bones, and once they reach the age of 20, the task becomes maintaining healthy bone mass.
Health awareness should happen more than one month out of the year, experts say.
MyPlate recommends three servings of dairy each day in order to get nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and protein, but 50 percent of Americans are only eating half of that.
Between balancing busy schedules and caring for the needs of children, parents may struggle with finding the time to plan nutritious meals, grocery shop, prepare dinner and eat together as a family.
But Oklahoma-native and family and consumer sciences educator, Susan Allen, has advice to combat the situation.
“We’ve got some nutrient gaps that we need to fill, and dairy is a tasty, delicious, good way to fill that recommendation for calcium and other nutrients,” she said.
Milk is also a cost-effective source of calcium. With 16 servings in a gallon, a glass of milk costs only about 25 cents. That’s a small price to pay for healthy bones.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation explains that risk factors for osteoporosis include aging, low body weight, or being small or thin, among others. The human body needs calcium, and if the nutrient isn’t coming from a person’s diet, the body will pull the nutrient from the bones.
Speaking as a staff member of Dairy MAX and as a mother herself, Allen has direct experience with both parenting and educating parents and kids about nutrition.
In order to engrain healthy eating habits in children from an early age, Allen suggests that parents make meal time fun. Parents can include children in the cooking process with small tasks like stirring, washing vegetables or setting the table. During dinner, parents can ask kids to put on their favorite music or have silly, make-believe conversations.
Dinners can be made more special with fun recipes like slow cooker grilled cheese fondue. Allen and her family dip chunks of French bread, apples or chicken into the three cheese fondue to brighten up a simple Tuesday dinner.
Allen also recommends that parents set a positive example for kids by eating nutritious foods themselves. This will help everyone stay healthy.
“[Moms] are really our kids’ first super heroes. So super heroes need strong bodies and strong bones.”
Eating together as a family is another way to promote healthy living. Family dinners are connected with lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, and they promote higher grade point averages and self-esteem, according to The Family Dinner Project.
Research suggests that families should strive to eat together at least five nights per week, but other meals like breakfast work just as well to create quality family time. In order to foster the best possible environment, families also are advised to turn off the TV and keep conversations positive.
By 2020, half of Americans over 50 years old are expected to have low bone density or osteoporosis, Allen said. The impacts of osteoporosis can include height loss, hunched posture, broken bones and emotional effects like anxiety.
“If we don’t stop and think about the particular foods that can help us reverse that, that’s gonna be the reality for us,” she said.
Calcium vitamins can be a supplement to calcium-rich foods, but Allen said that instead of relying on vitamins, they should be used only as an insurance policy because the body absorbs calcium best from food.
“For moms, the big thing is: it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being the best we can be, and it’s about every day is a new day. And so we can all pick one or two little things that we can focus on to work on, to get better.”
Dairy Max is working to educate people across Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas about the necessity of a dairy-rich diet, which is grounded in science-based nutrition information and research.
For more information about osteoporosis prevention or child health, visit dairymax.org.