NEW YORK -- It's almost second nature for parents to give their babies breast milk or formula and eventually milk. But as children get older and stronger -- mentally and physically -- nutrition becomes a battle that some parents aren't willing to fight.
Until a certain point parents mostly have control over what their children eat, but once those kids hit a certain decision-making stage, moms and dads find themselves at the table with kids who don't want to drink milk.
This has led to a "calcium crisis," says Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition and associate dean at the University of Vermont.
Not enough nutrients
Nine out of 10 teen-age girls and seven out of 10 boys are not getting the daily recommended amount of calcium, says Johnson.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, 9-to-18-year-olds need the most calcium, 1,300 milligrams per day, which roughly equals four servings of milk. Young children, aged 1-3, are encouraged to have 500 milligrams and adults over 50 should have 1,200 milligrams.
"I don't know how else to say this: Kids should drink milk with their meals," says Johnson.
"The best way to do this is role modeling. When moms drink milk, their kids will, too," she adds. "And the moms could use it, too."
(Adults over 50 are the group with the second-highest recommended calcium levels.)
Modeling works better than cajoling, rewarding or punishing children over food, Johnson explains.
Children develop food preferences over time. If milk is offered often enough and parents are drinking it, she says, children eventually will give in.
The same goes for school. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is urging the federal government to promote putting milk vending machines in school hallways. He cites a successful "vendi-milk" program in Buffalo, N.Y.-area schools as proof that students will make healthier eating choices if given the opportunity.
The vending machines sell milk in assorted flavors.
Meanwhile, the National Dairy Council recently held a "Building Better Bodies" summit to encourage people aged 2 to 92 to increase their calcium intake through dairy products. A serving of cheese or yogurt has the same calcium value as an 8-ounce serving of milk. Even a slice of cheese pizza counts toward 22 percent of the recommended daily dose.
People who fail to meet calcium recommendations often are lacking other vitamins and nutrients in their diets as well, says Gregory Miller, senior vice president of nutrition and scientific affairs for the dairy council.
He said teens and tweens, youngsters between 8 and 12 who fall between being little kids and teen-agers, are most susceptible to calcium deficiencies because they are preoccupied with their image.