and Early childhood is a time which I refer to as a ‘window of opportunity’ for many elements of our future health, including but not limited to physical development. This is the time when we can lay down strong physical development foundations to support us throughout the rest of our lives. One of the biggest elements of our physical development are the foundations for a strong skeleton and good bone health.

There are two crucial factors involved in physical development during early years and the ability to build a healthy skeleton; during the early years we must invest in early childhood movement and nutrition. Consider childhood as a time to invest in skeletal health rather like a bone-bank – this investment lays strong foundations to help a child to reach their peak bone mass potential.

We understand that formative nutrition shapes our future health and habits in many ways including health conditions that can feel are ‘set far in the future’ but these are actually influenced by decisions in childhood. Building healthy bones during childhood helps to prevent osteoporosis and fractures in later life – this is because bone mass developed in childhood is an important factor in lifelong skeletal health.

Physical Development - Bone Bank

Consider childhood to be a window of opportunity to invest in bone health before our skeleton has reached its peak of bone mass, after that it’s a case of maintenance! We can invest in bone health by ensuring two factors are introduced and habitual;

  1. Healthy food choices
  2. Physical activity

Calcium for Building Bones and Supporting Physical Development

When it comes to bone health and nutrition, we always think of milk. Whilst it’s true that a lot of our bone formation and strength is supported by calcium, milk isn’t the only source of calcium and calcium can’t work alone! For calcium to work effectively in the body it needs a supply of other vitamins and minerals too; these are just some of the nutrients which are needed alongside calcium to support our bone density and skeletal development.

Promoting Physical Development - Nutrients for Bone Health

  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium
  • Magnesium supports bone-health (stimulates calcitonin which acts as a bone-preserving hormone)
  • Phosphorus works with calcium to help build bones
  • Vitamin K2 – linked to heart and bone health – helps to bind calcium to bones keeping them denser and stronger
  • Zinc – supports mineralisation of bones
  • Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) – fish, is a particularly good food for bone development as it is rich in vitamin D and omega 3 fatty Acids. People with higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids have an increased bone density and a decreased fracture riskThere’s a lot more information on this including animations on ‘Calcium and its friends’ in my course on building a skeleton.

Lifestyle considerations

Bones are strong. In fact, in certain test conditions (do not try this at home), human bones are stronger than steel. But the foods we eat and how much we move can be a huge influencing factor over how strong an individual’s bones can be.

Getting active!

We know that muscles get stronger the more we use them, well the same applies to bones – the more they work, the stronger they get. Organised sports can be a fun way to engage in activity but it isn’t the only way to build healthy bones. Any kind of physical activity is great for children to build bone strength but the best types are activities which are weight-bearing. The best of all, is simply walking.

Many children from a young age can start to disengage with the term ‘exercise’ it can even become a trigger for stress and anxiety and structured physical activity can become intimidating. When this happens, a child may prefer to not take part or choose a sedentary-based activity instead. This can become habitual and many adults are disengaged with exercise due to negative childhood memories of physical activity.

A sedentary lifestyle is very detrimental to bone health and a sedentary childhood could miss the opportunity of investing in the strength of the bone mass before it reaches its peak. Encouraging activity and movement in children from a young age so that an active rather than a sedentary lifestyle becomes their habit, is crucial to bone health. When movement and activity are the norm, it becomes habitual rather than a structured event requiring effort.

The importance of establishing these early movement habits cannot be underestimated – a sedentary lifestyle is now the 4th leading risk factor for global mortality and activity levels are declining with each generation. In the UK, only 18% of children meet the activity guidelines of 60 minutes per day and we already have the prediction that:

“We could see the first generation of children to be expected to have shorter life spans than their parents if current trends on obesity, nutrition and lifestyle continue.”

The Lancet Volume 371, issue 9607.

One example of these lifestyle changes on children’s health predictions is the increase in Type 2 Diabetes. In the UK today, we have more children than ever with this condition which was previously considered an ‘adult disease’.

According to Sugarwise, there were 3432 children with Type 2 Diabetes in 2021 compared to 1 child in the year 2020.

This is a staggering increase and when we consider that post Covid, we have seen the biggest spike in childhood obesity rates, whilst weight and Type 2 Diabetes don’t necessarily always correlate, the 3432 figure is likely to now be higher.

Why is this particularly relevant to bones? People with Type 2 Diabetes are at an increased fracture risk, so when we consider children with Type 2 Diabetes, before they have reached peak bonemass they are likely to be a future fracture risk.

Children today face an increasingly obesogenic environment to grow up in. They will have to navigate a bombardment of unhealthy yet affordable and accessible convenient food choices and potentially live a sedentary lifestyle. We need to help them to understand the impact of these external factors in relation to their own future health. My aim is to share as much information with children as possible so that they can begin to understand and influence their own future and positive physical development.

Further information

Podcast interview on early movement habits - https://share.transistor.fm/s/4fbb5b20

About the author:

Louise is an Early Years Nutrition Consultant and focuses on health and nutrition. Louise also hosts a radio show ‘Food For Thought’ on Teacher Hug Radio.

    About the author:

    Louise is an Early Years Nutrition Consultant and focuses on health and nutrition. Louise also hosts a radio show ‘Food For Thought’ on Teacher Hug Radio.

      About the author:

      Louise is an Early Years Nutrition Consultant and focuses on health and nutrition. Louise also hosts a radio show ‘Food For Thought’ on Teacher Hug Radio.

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