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Calcium: The Bone Builder Kids & Teens Need

​As children grow, they need calcium and other nutrients to build strong bones and a healthy body. But did you know that most young people in the United States don't get enough calcium in their diets?

The body's need for calcium is at its highest point between the ages of 9 years and 18 years old. Not getting enough calcium during this can affect bone strength later in life. Read on for information and tips to help your child get the calcium they need now.

What is calcium?

Calcium is a mineral that many parts of the body needs. Its main job is to build strong bones and teeth, which contain 99% of the body's calcium. Calcium also helps our muscles move and helps regulate blood pressure, among other vital functions.

What happens if you don't get enough calcium?

If somebody doesn't get enough calcium, their bones will weaken. This is because the body will take calcium out of the bones to use elsewhere if needed.

When we are young, our bodies can store calcium in our bones. As we get older, we lose the ability to store calcium in our bones. By the time a child reaches young adulthood, their bones reach their peak bone density. That means their bones are as dense (or packed) with calcium as they will get—for life. After that, the body mainly withdraws calcium from what is stored in our bones.

People who do not have enough calcium stored in their bones can get osteoporosis when they age. Osteoporosis is a disease that can make bones so fragile that they break from the stress of just bending over.

Is calcium all that's needed for strong bones?

Calcium does not work alone. As children grow, their bodies also needs other minerals, such as phosphorus and magnesium, and other nutrients such as vitamin D and vitamin K.

Physical activity is important too. Studies show that regularly doing weight-bearing activities such as walking, running, jumping, and playing tennis, basketball, or soccer helps you build strong bones. And when kids do these activities outdoors, their bodies can make vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. (Remember to put on sunscreen.)

How much calcium do children, teens and young adults need?

How much calcium your body needs varies by age. You need the most calcium between the ages of 9 years and 18 years.

Recommended Daily Intake of Calcium

Age (years)

Calcium Need (mg per day)

Servings of Low-fat Dairy Products to Meet Need










How can I help my child get enough calcium?

The best way to get the enough calcium is by eating and drinking foods that naturally contain calcium. If your child has a medical condition, talk with your doctor about the foods and beverages that would benefit them the most.

Sources of calcium in foods include:

  • Low-fat milk, yogurt, and other dairy and soy beverage products.

  • Flavored milks, such as chocolate and strawberry, have as much calcium as plain milk. Keep in mind that they may have added sugar and more calories.

  • Dark-green, leafy vegetables such as kale and turnip greens are low in calories and high in calcium. However, spinach is not a good source of calcium.

  • Broccoli, tofu, chickpeas, lentils, split peas, and fish with bones, such as canned salmon and canned sardines. You can add these foods to salads.

  • Calcium-fortified juices. Remember to limit yourself to 4 to 8 ounces (½–1 cup) of juice a day.

  • Calcium-fortified cereals.

Sample List of Calcium in Foods

Food Group

Serving Size

Calcium (mg)

Milk Group

Milk,a regular or low-fat

1 cup


Yogurt, nonfat or fruit

1 cup



1-ounce slice


Cheese, pasteurized

3/4-ounce slice


Ice cream

1/2 cup


Ice cream, soft serve

1/2 cup


Frozen yogurt

1/2 cup


Pudding, instant

1/2 cup


Soy milk,b calcium-fortified

1 cup


Protein Group

Almonds, chopped

1 ounce


White beans, cooked or boiled

1 cup


Salmon, canned with bones

3 ounces


Tofu, firm or calcium-fortified

1/2 cup


Vegetables or Fruits

Broccoli, cooked

1 cup


Collards, cooked

1 cup


Tomatoes, canned or stewed

1 cup


Orange juice, calcium-fortified

1 cup



1 medium



English muffin, plain or enriched



Pancakes (made with milk)



Corn tortilla



Selected breakfast cereals, calcium-fortified

3/4–1 cup


Instant oatmeal (made with water), calcium-fortified

1/2 cup


Low-fat milk has as much or more calcium than whole milk.

b If you drink nondairy beverages that contain calcium, keep in mind that some beverages labeled with the word milk, such as almond milk, are often low in calcium.

How do I check calcium on food labels?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that calcium be listed on Nutrition Facts labels. In general, a food that lists a daily value of 20% or more for calcium is high in calcium. Any food that contains less than 5% of the daily value is low in calcium.

Does my child need to take calcium supplements?

Certain medical conditions, diets, or lifestyles can make it hard for kids to get enough calcium by eating the right foods. In some cases, your pediatrician may recommend a supplement. Check with your pediatrician to see what is best for your child.

What decreases calcium intake?

Here are some things that can hurt bone health.

  • Drinking a lot of soda (pop or soft drinks)—Studies show that this may make you more prone to bone fractures. This may be because sodas often take the place of milk or other calcium-rich drinks.

  • Certain diets—Some diets may not provide enough calcium, such as a vegetarian diet that excludes dairy products.

  • Certain medicines and diseases—Some medicines and kidney and intestinal diseases can cause calcium loss from bones.

  • Alcohol and tobaccoAlcohol and tobacco use can cause bones to lose calcium.

What is lactose intolerance?

Some young people have significant lactose intolerance, which means they have trouble digesting lactose (the sugar in milk). In most people, lactose intolerance is of a mild form. These people can digest dairy products in small amounts with a meal. Cheeses and yogurts in which the lactose is partially broken down can provide good sources of calcium for them. There are preparations of the enzyme lactase that make lactose easier to digest. Also available is milk with reduced lactose.

Nondairy beverages including soy milk that are rich in calcium, as well as calcium-fortified foods, can also be good choices for people who have lactose intolerance.

More information

Last Updated
Adapted from Building Strong Bones: Why Calcium Counts (Copyright © 2019 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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