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Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
Building strong bones

Building strong bones in the child and teen years can impact health now and in the future.

How does pediatric bone development influence osteoporosis later in life?

a doctor smilingThe role of pediatric bone development in osteoporosis prevention is considerable.

The tween and teen years are critical for bone development because most bone mass accumulates during this time.

  • In the years of peak skeletal growth, teenagers accumulate more than 25 percent of adult bone.
  • By the time teens finish their growth spurts around age 17, 90 percent of their adult bone mass is established.

Following the teen years, bones continue to increase in density until a person is about age 30.

Calcium is critical to building bone mass to support physical activity throughout life and to reduce the risk of bone fractures, especially those due to osteoporosis.

The onset of osteoporosis later in life is influenced by two important factors:

  • Peak bone mass attained in the first two to three decades of life
  • The rate at which bone is lost in the later years

Although the effects of low calcium consumption may not be visible in childhood, lack of adequate calcium intake puts young people at increased risk for osteoporosis later in life.

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What is the role of physical activity in bone development?

a doctor in his officeWeight-bearing physical activity helps to determine the strength, shape, and mass of bone.

Activities such as running, dancing, and climbing stairs, as well as those that increase strength, such as weight lifting, can help bone development. For children and teenagers, some of the best weight-bearing activities include team sports, such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, and softball.

Studies show that absence of physical activity results in a loss of bone mass, especially during long periods of immobilization or inactivity.

For more information about physical activity and bone health that you can share with your patients, visit the Increasing Physical Activity for Better Bone Health section of this Web site.

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How much physical activity do tweens and teens need?

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and adolescents should engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. To read more about these recommendations, visit the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 .

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