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Rickety Young Bones?

Filed Under: Baby and Child Health at 2:40 pm | By: Susan Coyle, Senior Editor
X-RayIn the 18th and 19th centuries, rickets plagued America’s children.  A disease in which a vitamin D and calcium deficiency weakens the bones, the afflicted were suffering from bowed legs, other skeletal deformities, fragile bones and impaired growth. Held back by the pain and weakness, the children were no longer able to run and play as they once had. Their youth was, essentially, less youthful. It was a difficult disease to cope with, whether you had it or had to watch it develop. So it was with much relief that we discovered a prevention method: fortified milk. We believed that the vitamin-D pumped beverage would eradicate the disease, providing children with all they needed for strong, healthy bones. And for a while it did. But today, that’s not the case.

Rickets is suddenly on the rise. Children are once again suffering from weak bones.  The source of the problem is believed to lie in a lack of milk, sunshine and exercise. Kids aren’t getting enough of any of them and as a result, are missing out on the calcium, vitamin D and bone-strengthening activity they need to properly develop. They are breaking arms and legs with a frequency that far surpasses that of 40 years ago. They are putting themselves at a risk for osteoporosis that rivals their grandparents’, and they are softening their bones to the point of bow. The only way to rectify this is to eliminate all three of the deficiencies, and that, in part, falls to you, the parent.

Children need 800 mgs of calcium a day, to start.  When they reach age nine, that amount increases to 1,300 mgs a day or three cups of fat-free/low-fat milk daily, along with a diet filled with calcium-rich foods. They also need vitamin D (200 IUs/day), which can be found in fortified milk, but the best source is sunlight. Send your kids outside and allow them to soak in the nutrient. And while they’re out there, they can take care of the third lack: exercise. Children should be physically active for at least one hour a day. If this activity is going to benefit the bones, it should involve some sort of weight bearing on the arms and legs. Soccer, running, jumping rope – anything in which the limbs are made to work is ideal.

Leave a 19th century disease, in the 19th century. Give your kids a glass of milk; then, kick them out the door. They may whine, but their legs will thank you later.

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