When a Child Breaks a Bone...

February 16, 2016

I was at home making dinner last fall when a text came in from my son-in-law to let me know that my 8-year-old grandson had broken his arm AGAIN. Two years ago he broke his forearm while swinging, then falling, from a backyard gym set. No sooner had his right arm healed, than he broke BOTH forearms in another backyard fall. This time he was learning to rollerblade, when he used his arm to break his fall onto the cement sidewalk.

When a child breaks a bone, there are tears and pain and a parent may wonder if there is something they can do to help their child have stronger bones. A parent may ask, “Is my child drinking enough milk? Does he need more calcium?” This experience may offer a window of opportunity for you as a health and wellness professional to educate parents about how to help protect their child’s bones before a fall happens and throughout life.

A new joint scientific statement of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Society for Nutrition, will help you answer these questions and more. It provides evidence-based guidance and strategies to help people achieve optimal peak bone mass early in life. This is important because the magnitude of bone mass attained in young adulthood is a predictor of osteoporosis later in life. 

Here are some highlights:

First of all, it’s important to understand that genetics largely determine a person’s bone mass potential – but 20 to 40 percent of adult peak bone mass is determined by lifestyle choices such as nutrients consumed, food patterns and physical activity.  

The onset of puberty and the adolescent growth spurt is a time of rapid bone mineral formation – reaching a maximum (peak) shortly after peak height gain usually around 12.5 years in girls and 14 years in boys, on average. Within four years after that, a young person has achieved 95 percent of his or her adult bone mass.   

The period of rapid bone growth provides the greatest opportunity to influence peak bone mass, but is also the most vulnerable to fracture. Bones become temporarily more fragile as linear bone growth outpaces bone mineralization. Though physical activity is critically important for bone growth, it is often the most physically active children who break a bone. Moderate trauma is sufficient to break healthy bones. But children who fracture a forearm as a result of mild trauma have reduced bone strength compared to children who have never had a fracture. Some children may have lower bone mass and be more vulnerable to fracture because they are not be getting enough calcium, vitamin D or exercise.  

According to the scientific statement, calcium and physical activity are lifestyle factors with the best evidence of having a positive effect on optimal bone health, especially during late childhood and throughout puberty. Vitamin D and dairy food consumption have good evidence supporting their benefit for bone health.

According to a national nutrition survey, milk is the number one food source of calcium and vitamin D in children’s diets. Since by age 6, children do not consume the recommended servings from the dairy group, this handout shows parents how to help improve children’s diets with nutrient-rich milk.  

When the child of a family member, friend, or parent you are counseling breaks a bone, step through the window of opportunity before it closes and use the incident as a reason to talk about aspects of nutrition and lifestyle that will help keep children’s bones healthy now and in the future.

Follow me here and @DairyMSRD for more insights on dairy foods and health.