It’s common knowledge that drinking lots of milk will give you healthy teeth and bones, but for once this piece of health advice actually has a scientific basis. Calcium, abundant in milk, is very important in building up bone strength, particularly in young adults whose bones are not fully developed. A study published in the July/August issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggests that, in the US at least, young people just aren’t getting enough.
Using data from another study designed to examine what teens eat and why, researchers at the University of Minnesota analysed the calcium intake of 1,500 young adults, 45% of which were male. The study initially quizzed participants with an average age of 16, with a follow up around five years later.
They found that the majority of teens actually reduced their calcium intake as they grew up. Age 16, more than 72% of girls and 55% of boys had calcium intakes lower than the recommended level of 1.3 grams per day. Later in life these figures fall slightly, but so does the recommended level of calcium. In young adulthood, 68% of girls and 53% of boys fail to get 1 gram per day.
The study suggests that children who are given milk at mealtimes and are encouraged to have positive attitudes towards health and nutrition are more likely to have a higher calcium intake later in life. Time spent watching television was associated with a lower intake however, as was lactose intolerance – unsurprisingly.
Dr. Nicole I. Larson of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota and colleagues suggest that encouraging more families to serve milk at mealtimes will combat the fall in calcium intake. As always, it boils down to simple health advice: drink more milk.