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Is your child getting enough calcium?

Young bodies need adequate calcium to build strong bones, especially during growth spurts. In fact, 90 percent of a person’s peak bone mass for adulthood is established by the late teen years: The strength and health of an adult’s bones largely depends on calcium intake during formative years. Some experts call osteoporosis a juvenile disease because poor bone mass in adulthood often begins in adolescence.

Other factors also help build bones, such as engaging in weight-bearing physical activity, for example:

  • walking
  • running
  • jumping rope
  • team sports
  • weight lifting

But calcium intake remains critical. An added bonus to consuming calcium in dairy products: Some studies link diets rich in dairy products with more lean body mass and better weight management.

According to the current Dietary Reference Intake guidelines, children from 1 to 3 years old need 500 milligrams of calcium a day; 4 to 8 years, 800 milligrams; and 9 to 18 years, 1,300 milligrams. However, the problem is that many children are just not consuming enough calcium. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, fewer than one in 10 girls and just one in four boys ages 9 through 13 are getting enough calcium.

To determine how much calcium your children consume, use the Nutrition Facts label. It gives a percentage of the “Daily Value” for calcium per serving. But it’s important to know the label’s Daily Value for calcium is only based on 1,000 milligrams while most children (9-18 years) have the recommended daily intake of 1300 mg. Keep that in mind because it means they need 130 percent of the Daily Value.

While looking at labels, check for vitamin D, too. It helps the body absorb calcium. Most milk sold commercially has vitamin D added, but other dairy products, including cheese and ice cream, rarely are fortified with vitamin D. Some types of yogurt are, and some aren’t. Just check the label. Some calcium-rich foods include:

  • Milk – One cup of milk has about 300 milligrams.
  • Yogurt – Calcium content varies from about 275 up to 450 milligrams per cup.
  • Cheese – Different varieties have different levels of calcium. An ounce of Swiss cheese has 225 milligrams; pasteurized process American cheese food has 160 milligrams per ounce.
  • Cereals and juices – Some are fortified with calcium and can be an important source. Check the labels.
  • Spinach – A cup of cooked frozen spinach has 290 milligrams, but unfortunately it also contains oxalic acid, which reduces the body’s ability to absorb the calcium.

For more information, see the health institute’s “Milk Matters” Web site at

This article originally appeared in Chow Line (07/13/07), a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2009.

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