NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Eating plenty of dairy foods, meat, and other high-protein foods in childhood result in stronger and healthier bones in adolescence , a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics shows.
Boys and girls who ate at least two servings of dairy a day throughout their childhood had denser bones in their teens than their peers who ate less, Dr. Lynn L. Moore of Boston University School of Medicine and her colleagues found. Eating four or more servings of meat or other protein-rich foods also boosted bone density.
Despite the admonishments of generations of parents, the results of studies on the effects of dairy or calcium supplements on bone health have been mixed, Moore and her team note. Because most of these studies were relatively short - lasting 1 to 2 years -- the "best available evidence" on dairy's long-term benefits will likely come from following the diets of children for many years, they add.
The researchers analyzed data from the Framingham Children's Study for 106 children who were followed from 1987, when they were 3 to 5 years old, to 1999. Several 3-day food diaries were collected throughout the course of the study, and the participants had bone scans when they were 15 to 17 years old.
Study participants who averaged two or more servings of dairy foods a day throughout their childhood had a higher bone mineral content, greater bone area, and greater bone mineral density than those who ate less, the researchers found. Children who ate four or more servings of meat or another protein source also had denser bones.
Dairy and protein seemed to have additive effects, with children who consumed the most of both types of food having the densest, largest bones; those who consumed the least had the thinnest bones.
The benefits were seen in several regions of the body, with higher bone mineral content in the arms, legs, trunk, ribs and pelvis, in particular.
"The findings of this study confirm the importance of a diet rich in dairy and other protein sources on adolescent bone mass," Moore and her team conclude.
SOURCE: Journal of Pediatrics, November 2008.