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"Drink your milk!" Why do grown-ups say this? One big reason is that milk contains calcium, an important ingredient in building strong bones. And if you start out with strong bones when you're a kid, those bones will serve you well your whole life.

You want bones that are dense, which means they're strong all the way through. Why? Because as people age, bones naturally become less dense. In other words, everyone's going to lose some bone density as he or she ages, so you want to start out with as much as possible.

Your big chance to build bones is when you're young. The process is pretty much over by the time you're in your mid-20s.

What Is Osteoporosis?

If someone has osteoporosis (say: oss-tee-oh-puh-RO-sis), the person's bones are now weakened because of this loss of bone density. Weak bones can break easier and the person may have other problems such as a stooped-over posture. Maybe you've seen an older woman who's a little hunched over.

Older people — especially women, who are generally smaller and have bones that are lighter and less dense — are more likely to develop osteoporosis.

Types of Osteoporosis

The most common cause of osteoporosis is age. The older you get, the more bone loss you are likely to have, especially if you don't take in enough calcium.

Osteoporosis also can be caused by diseases or other factors, such as:

Signs and Symptoms

Many people don't realize they have osteoporosis until they fracture (break) a bone. There are usually no other symptoms — although some older people may notice they are getting slightly shorter or have a hunched-over posture. Older people with osteoporosis are especially at risk of breaking a hip if they fall down.

What Does the Doctor Do?

If the doctor suspects osteoporosis, he or she will talk to the person and do an examination. The doctor will order X-rays of the patient's bones as well as a bone density test.

Once the doctor is sure of osteoporosis, he or she will treat the patient to prevent more bone loss. Usually, someone with osteoporosis has to take medications that help slow down bone loss and should also take calcium supplements.

Diet and exercise are important parts of osteoporosis treatment. People need a variety of healthy, calcium-rich foods and regular exercise, such as walking or running, to strengthen bones. A doctor may also recommend weight training or special exercises. The person also will need to be careful to avoid falls, so avoiding icy sidewalks and other hazards is a good idea.

Can Kids Get Osteoporosis?

Kids don't usually get osteoporosis, but they can do some things to prevent it later in life:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet, especially with foods rich in calcium (like milk, cheese, yogurt, green leafy vegetables, and citrus fruit) and vitamin D (in cheese, egg yolk, and fatty fish like tuna, salmon, or mackerel).
  • Be active. In other words, play a lot! Playing sports, running, jumping, dancing — whatever you like to do.
  • Don't smoke.

Take these steps and your skeleton will thank you later!

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: January 2015
Originally reviewed by: Alfred Atanda Jr., MD

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Related Resources:
Best Bones Forever
A bone health campaign for girls ages 9 to 12 that teaches how to get and keep strong, healthy bones for life. "Grow strong together and stay strong forever!"
Milk Matters (for kids)
This site, created by the National Institutes of Health, aims to increase awareness about the importance of calcium in the diets of tweens and teens. Eating and drinking calcium-rich foods is especially important to 11- to 15-year-olds because bones grow fast during those years.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation
This site educates the public about osteoporosis, prevention, and news and stories affecting bone health.