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Osteoporosis in Children? Fitness and Sport Coaches Beware

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Most people associate osteoporosis with the elderly, particularly women in mid-life and older. However this condition, which is characterized by low bone density and vulnerability to fractures, is occurring with surprising and increasing frequency in children.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, pediatric orthopedists and physical therapists have developed a growing awareness of this condition, and they believe it is occurring for a number of reasons. Chief among them is a less active lifestyle (less stress on their bones), poor nutrition, and decreased exposure to the sun—an important source of vitamin D, which helps calcium absorption in the digestive tract. In short, otherwise healthy children have increasingly low bone density because they are not getting outside with enough frequency, and are not getting the recommended “bounce” on their skeletons, which forces bones to adapt and become stronger.

Articles have recently been published describing an overall loss in cardiovascular endurance and lung capacity among children compared to their parents. Are you under the age of 30? Chances are that unless your parents made you go outside everyday for most of the day, or your childhood was filled with sport, you are likely suffering from both bone density and lung capacity issues when compared to your parents, at least in most cases. Children simply do not have the same physical “literacy” as their parents did.

Whether you are a fitness trainer, performance sport coach, or just a recreational sport coach, if you are training children you need to be aware of the bone density issues. Even if a child seems healthy, fit, and robust, there is still a strong possibility that they are suffering from low bone density. Quite literally children are not as hardy as in years past. High school sport coaches are seeing well-built, athletic young men and women succumb to multiple bone fractures or sprains from seemingly mild injuries. Far more disheartening is that this is likely just the beginning, as a number of high-level coaches and sports scientists among most of the United States’ main sporting bodies predict the epidemic become worse—much worse.

If you are a parent, it is never to late to get the kids outside for both play and/or sport. It doesn’t even have to be organized by adults, just let it happen naturally. The great thing about kids is they will always eventually find some way to entertain themselves. Limit inside time as much as possible and only when needed due to weather, illness, or schedule. Children need sun, they need to move and they need to stress their skeletons. Children need to get out of breath during play every once in a while. Children need sport.

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