Questions and Answers About Childhood Nutrition

The following information is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – NIH Publication No. 00-4864 – January 2001

Q: Why Does Milk Matter NOW for Children and Teens?

A: Good nutrition is important for good health and can help protect against many diseases later in life. However, one important nutrient many kids and teens don’t get enough of is calcium, found mainly in milk and dairy products and in dark green, leafy vegetables and foods with added calcium. Calcium is a nutrient that helps to make bones and teeth strong and healthy. It is used in building bone mass and also helps to reduce the risk of bone fracture due to osteoporosis, a condition where bones become fragile and can break easily.

Q: How do we Build Strong Bones?

A: Our bodies continually remove and replace small amounts of calcium from our bones. If your body removes more calcium then it replaces, your bones will become weaker and have a greater chance of breaking. But by getting the recommended amount of calcium, you can help your bones stay strong.

Calcium needs are highest during the childhood and teen years, because bones are growing fast then and calcium must be added into bones to make them strong. Most of the calcium that makes bones strong is added by the age of 17. By eating and drinking foods that are good sources of calcium, children and teens can help store this important nutrient in their bones for later in life. As adults, we lose calcium. The more calcium that is in the bones when loss begins, the less likely it is that bones will become fragile and fracture easily.

Q: How Much Calcium Do Kids Need?

A: Nutrition guidelines recommend that children ages 4-8 get 800 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day, or about 2 servings of Milk Group foods daily. Teens and young adults, ages 9-18, need more calcium because their bones are growing more than at other times of life. They should have 1,300 mg of calcium per day, or about 3 servings of Milk Group foods daily. One 8-ounce glass of milk has about 300 mg of calcium, so just a few glasses can go a long way towards getting the calcium needed each day.

Age Calcium Recommended Each Day (in milligrams)
1-3 years 500 mg
4-8 years 800 mg
9-18 years 1,300 mg

Source: Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride, The National Academy of Sciences, 1997

Q: How Do I Know How Much Calcium a Food Has?

A: Food labels can tell you how much calcium is in one serving of a food. Look at the % Daily Value (DV) next to the calcium number on the food label.
Try to eat and drink foods with 20% or more DV for calcium (like milk). These foods are good sources of calcium. Foods with less than 5% DV for calcium only give you a small amount of what you need each day.

For most adults, 100% DV = 1,000 mg of calcium. But children ages 9-18 need extra calcium. This age group needs 1,300 mg (130 DV), an additional 300 mg of calcium each day. That means an extra 8-ounce glass of milk or extra servings of another calcium-rich food.