Bones are the main structural support for the human body and ensuring healthy bones is essential for overall well being. Weak bones cause pain, fatigue, and an increased risk of fractures.
Osteoporosis mainly affects the elderly but poor bone health during childhood can negatively impact peak bone mass in early adult life. This in turn can cause early onset of osteoporosis and fractures in later life.
Various factors such as sedentary lifestyle, lack of sunlight exposure, diet poor in Calcium and environmental pollution can cause Vitamin D deficiency and weak bones in children. Low Vitamin D levels in children causes a serious condition called Rickets which results in deformities of the bones. This can be fully corrected by early identification by a doctor and prompt treatment with Vitamin D.
Less than 10% of our Vitamin D requirement is provided by diet while more than 90% is produced by our own body through sunlight exposure. In metros like Bangalore, adequate exposure to direct sunlight is a major challenge. Fortification of milk with Calcium and Vitamin D is not widely available in India. In this scenario, supplementation of the diet with foods rich in Calcium and oral Vitamin D supplementation may be necessary.
Children between 1 and 18 years of age require 600 – 800 mg of Calcium for optimal bone health (2 to 3 servings of milk and milk products such as yoghurt, cheese and paneer). In addition, children in this age group will benefit from 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight every day. Alternatively, the daily oral requirement of Vitamin D is 600 IU/day. A consultation with your doctor or paediatrician is recommended prior to starting Vitamin D supplements. Routine blood tests for checking Vitamin D levels is generally not advisable since the prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency in urban populations is very high.
Regular physical exercise is another important component of maintaining bone strength. Children should participate in moderately strenuous sports for at least 2 to 3 hours per week, preferably during daylight hours. In addition to physical education classes in school, parents should consider enrolling their children in local clubs or sports academies. An active child will continue to remain fit, healthy, and active throughout their adult life.
Rare bone conditions in children such as Brittle Bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta) can be treated successfully thanks to recent advances in medicines and surgical treatment. Children who were previously confined to a wheelchair, due to deformities and frequent fractures, can now look forward to independent mobility and a normal life. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential in such cases for a better outcome. Multidisciplinary teams of professionals including paediatric orthopaedic surgeon, paediatric endocrinologist and paediatric therapists are now available in Bangalore for the integrated management of bone conditions in children.
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