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What Can I Do to Reduce My Family's Risk for Osteoporosis?

DrinkThe Surgeon General estimates that 44 million Americans, or 55 percent of people 50 years old or older, face a major health risk because of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, or the weakening of bones, is more common in women, but about one in five cases strikes men.

Unfortunately, warning signs of this disease are few and far between. As the National Osteoporosis Foundation says, people cannot feel their bones getting weaker. Many times, the first sign of osteoporosis is a broken bone resulting from a minor fall, or, in severe cases, a forceful sneeze.

In order to prevent osteoporosis, it is best to start early. Up to 90 percent of adult bone mass is built up by age 18 in girls and 20 in boys. Building strong bones during youth can help prevent problems later in life.

To help keep your bones strong:

1. Get the recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D.

Age group Calcium Requirement
Toddlers ages 1 to 3 500 milligrams
Children ages 4 to 8 800 milligrams
Children ages 9 to 18 1,300 milligrams
Adults ages 19 to 49 1,000 milligrams
Adults 50 and older 1,200 milligrams

As you can see, children and adolescents ages 9 to 18 need the most calcium! Calcium is listed on Nutrition Facts labels as a percent of its "Daily Value." The Daily Value for calcium is 1,000 milligrams. To figure out how much calcium is in a food, just add a zero to the Daily Value number -- a food with 30 percent of calcium's Daily Value has 300 milligrams. A cup of milk has 300 milligrams; a cup of chopped, cooked kale has 90 milligrams.

The need for vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, increases with age:

2. Engage in regular weight-bearing and strengthening exercise. Like muscles, bones get stronger if you make them work. Weight-bearing exercises include:

Because biking and swimming don't help your body move against gravity, they're not weight-bearing exercises and don't help strengthen bones. Resistance and strengthening exercises include:

3. Stop smoking and avoid excessive alcohol. Both can weaken bones.

4. Talk to your health professional about bone health.

This article originally appeared in Chow Line (05/9/08), a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2008.

For more information:

Go to the Osteoporosis health topic, where you can:

Last Reviewed: May 19, 2008

Martha J Andrews, PhD, RD, LD Martha J Andrews, PhD, RD, LD
Former Adjunct Associate Professor
Department of Human Nutrition
College of Education and Human Ecology
The Ohio State University