Preventing osteoporosis in young children

Prevention better than cure.

Today’s Children are at a much higher risk to develop Osteoporosis than previous generations. One of the main reasons is that many children take less exercise. Children are frequently driven to school while physical education has been severely cut or completely cut in schools. Hobbies are much more sedentary  and children spend a lot of time in front of screens on computers. Finally, children are now suffering from poor nutrition because of the increased intake of junk food

In previous generations, kids would be out playing on their roads and it was rare to see an overweight Irish child. Sadly this has changed significantly. We recently heard of a school where children from aged 12 were allowed to decide if they wanted to participate in PE or not. If the Government wants to cut down heath care costs long term, and ensure we have healthy futures for our children, it is essential that our tax money goes towards projects that fulfil these goals.

If physical education was made mandatory in all schools and a permanent fixture on school curriculums, the risk to our young would significantly decline.

Physical therapists could assess all children in schools and PE teachers could be instructed in appropriate exercises/activities for children with physical limitations. Research has shown that young women who participated regularly in sports at school, demonstrated higher bone mass than those who did not.

Physical education included in our schools will not only reduce the risk of Osteoporosis but also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, strokes and diabetes. It helps to lower heart rate, improve muscle strength, coordination, balance, Improves memory, increases a person’s social circle, increases a person’s mental alertness, reduces stress, can help to improve self-esteem and can also help to reduce anxiety and depression.

Obesity Statistics (from the Irish Heart Foundation).

Irish Children (5-12 years)

  • Overweight and obesity is now the most common childhood disorder in Europe.
  • One in ten 5-12 year olds is overweight and a further one in ten is obese. In total, 22% of 5-12 year olds are overweight or obese.
  • Irish Teenagers (13-17 years)
  • One in five teenagers is overweight or obese (11% overweight and 8% obese)
  • There has been a significant increase in teenage obesity since 1990 with an 8-fold increase in males (1% to 8%) and a 2-fold increase in   females (3% to 6%)

Economic Burden

Costs for treating obesity in Ireland are estimated at €0.4 billion. The number of premature deaths annually attributable to obesity currently approximates to 2,000.

What our young need to do and encouragement from you could help!

  • Consume adequate calories
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day and drink smoothies, milk and fruit juices instead of fizzy drinks
  • Dairy products especially fortified products are one of the best ways for people to get the daily amount of calcium and vitamin D and first class proteins, which are essential for healthy bones. Not one age group in Ireland gets the recommended daily amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Protein is also essential for health bone.
  • Moderate to high impact exercise should be undertaken in childhood and teenage years. A minimum of 60 minutes or 6 sets of 10 minutes, 12 sets of 5 minutes is adequate.
  • Too little exercise or excessive exercise results in bone loss.

Those who participate in sports outside of school need to ensure the following:

  • Eat enough calories for the amount of training they do.
  • Ensure you are getting adequate calories, protein, calcium and vitamin D.
  • Do not over train, rest days are essential.
  • Girls need to seek medical advice if their periods have become irregular or stopped completely.
  • Weight bearing exercise is any activity which puts the full weight of your body on your feet.
  • Example: Football, GAA, dancing, running, hockey, jogging, tennis, brisk walking, netball, basketball etc.
  • Dancing is one of the best forms of weight bearing exercise.
  • Non weight bearing: cycling or swimming. They are both great forms of exercise and if you enjoy them, keep doing them. Just remember you also need to do weight bearing for your bones.
  • Going up and down a flight of stairs once is equivalent to one minute of weight bearing.

The more variety of weight bearing exercise, the better for your bones! If you have been diagnosed with Osteopenia and/or Osteoporosis we recommend that to find out what exercises are appropriate for you or a loved one, one visit to a physiotherapist with a special interest in bone health can be very beneficial. The reason being, that exercise focusing on bending forward from the waist, twisting the spine, or lifting heavy weights should be avoided by those who have osteopenia or osteoporosis.


Nutrition plays a big part in the battle against Osteoporosis so ensure your children and grandchildren are getting the daily recommended amounts of calcium, vitamin D and protein. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and low levels of vitamin D have been linked to multiple forms of cancer, TB, MS, Osteoarthritis, Type 1 Diabetes and it mimics the symptoms of fibromyalgia (this is why people diagnosed with fibromyalgia should get their Vitamin D levels checked).

The following are great for your bones: Fortified yogurts (Calin +: drinks and yogurts), milks, low fat cheese, oily fish), vitamin D (sunlight-15 minutes in sun, than put sun block on) and protein (beans, lentils). Supplements are also available if you cannot get your daily requirements through food, such as Shake up 50+, which has calcium, vitamin D, protein and is gluten free, diabetic friendly and can be mixed with water or milk.