Calcium for Teens


How important is calcium for teenagers? How much do they need?

Dr. Greene's Answer

Adolescents need to take in at least 1200 mg of calcium per day during the adolescent growth spurt to build strong bones to last a lifetime. Almost half (45%) of the bone mass they will have for the rest of their lives is added during adolescence.

Best Calcium Sources 

Calcium is found in milk, yogurt, dark-green vegetables (such as collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, and kale), cheese, pudding, sesame seeds, tofu, bok choi (Chinese cabbage), canned non-boneless salmon and sardines, and cottage cheese. Some brands of orange juice are fortified with calcium. It is also available in dietary supplements.

Calcium for Strong Bones

Adequate calcium intake during adolescence results in fewer teenage broken bones. More importantly, it increases maximum bone density, reducing the risk for osteoporosis later in life, especially in postmenopausal women. People reach maximal bone density while they are adolescents or young adults and then gradually lose bone the rest of their lives. The more they start with, the more they will end up with. The amount of calcium consumed during adolescence correlates directly with the total bone mineral content measured on adolescent X-rays (Journal of Pediatrics, April 1995).

Current Teen Calcium Intake

Most teens consume less than 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Those who do nothing more than take a 500-mg calcium supplement boost their intake from 80% to 110% of the RDA. This results in a significant, measurable increase in bone density and bone mineral content of the spine (Journal of the American Medical Association, August 18, 1993), but these benefits disappear within 18 months if teens return to poor calcium intake (AAP News, February 1997).

Teens who consume 1200 mg of calcium per day are also measurably stronger than those who don’t. A study of 162 Icelandic girls found their grip strength (an estimate of total body strength) to correlate well with their calcium intake (Journal of Internal Medicine, October 1994).

Some teens I know drink diet colas as if they were water. You’ve heard of chain smoking–these kids do chain soda drinking. One can pops open almost before the previous one is empty. I have even heard of teens that pride themselves in drinking a 2-liter bottle of diet soda instead of eating lunch! A high consumption of carbonated cola beverages reduces bone mineralization and makes teenage girls almost four times as likely to break a bone than their male counterparts (Journal of Adolescent Health, May 1994).

Last medical review on: October 26, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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How to grow fast and health qnuitsoes please.?How can I grow faster and health qnuitsoes please.?I am 13 years old and 5’1 and i am a very social person at school but Ugh I have this teacher that jokes on my height during class and it is very annoying but while I go to school, there is a whole lot of tall people lol and it’s llike why are they so tall and I am so short my mom is 5’8 and my dad is 6’2 so why am i like this. I know Genes and I already learned that in science last year, I know I have alot of time like I havnt stopped growing but can anybody tell me some excercises, foods, and drinks that can make me taller at least by 5 inches if I do it everyday but I wont expect it to be fast. Please I am always happy and I try to put it aside but I cant, I tried. I am also trying to gain a little muscle in my arms and ab’s area. Also I cant take any suppliments or get any shots or go to the doctor, I need home excercises Thank you and please no rude comments please Thank you! Oh yeah I want to be at least 5’7 by next year or at least, well something over 5’2 thanks!

What is the best thing to give to my 16 year old son who just broke his arm in two places (lacrosse injury) – in terms of supplements/vitamins? I have already been encouraging foods high in calcium. I have read online that extra protein is helpful (perhaps the high in protein all natural fruit smoothies)?? He currently is not taking a multivitamin. I would like to get him some (children’s or adult’s?) and possibly an additional calcium supplement. But I am unsure, as I want him to heal well, and not muck the process up, or long-term bone strength, by offering him the wrong supplements. Thank you!