February 8, 2011
The growth and maintenance of healthy bones requires sufficient calcium intake; without adequate levels of calcium ingestion, the body will leach calcium from the bones, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis and other bone ailments.
Bone health issues are typically viewed as a condition of aging, but bone health is actually an issue that is relevant across all life stages. As 90 percent of bone mass is achieved by age 17, adequate calcium intake during adolescence results in fewer teenage broken bones, and reduces the risk for osteoporosis later in life. However, recent findings appear to indicate even pre-teens are not getting enough calcium, leading to bone density-related issues.
Calcium IntakeChildren Aged 9 to 12Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)Avg. IntakePercent ShortfallGirls1,300 mg777 mg40 percentBoys1,300 mg1,176 mg10 percent
Whether the body is alkaline or acidic affects bone health. An alkaline state keeps calcium from being depleted in bones and muscles, whereas an acidic state causes the body to leach calcium from bones and muscle in order to reach a more balanced alkaline state. For example, high consumption of [high-acid] carbonated cola beverages reduces bone mineralization and makes many of todays teens susceptible to bone loss and bone breaks.
Other factors that lead to increased acidity in the western culture include diet, stress, age and physical activity, putting many seniors at risk for bone health issues as well. What further exacerbates the situation for seniors is they also don't get the minimum recommended dietary calcium intake. Dietary restrictions such as limitations on dairy may be impeding their efforts to get sufficient calcium in their diets. In addition, seniors are not taking part in adequate levels of weight bearing exercises and may not be getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D (a nutrient necessary for calcium absorption) due to fewer outdoor activities, both of which lead to poor bone health. Even further, many medications can block absorption of calcium creating even further shortfalls.
Perceived Calcium Deficiency
Dairy products are well known for their calcium content. But many of todays diets limit dairy due to allergy, lactose intolerance, weight considerations or just distaste for dairy products. Other calcium-containing foods can be used instead, such as sardines, salmon, almonds, spinach, turnip greens, kale, Chinese cabbage, corn and flour tortillas, bread and broccoli. Another option for consumers are calcium-fortified foods and beverages such as some orange juices, cereals and soy milk, among many others.
However, even with all the calcium-related and calcium-fortified products, a quarter of the American adult population (more than 50 million people) feel their diet is still deficient in calcium. In fact, more than half of the population (54 percent with little variation across age groups) indicates when thinking about the foods and beverages they consume, they would like to get more calcium. Perhaps a little surprising, the youngest age group, 18 to 29 year olds, feels the most deficient.
Approximately one-third of consumers have turned to supplemental calcium in order to subsidize their diet, yet the age group that feels the most deficient is the least likely to use calcium supplements.
Barriers to Calcium Consumption
While 61 percent of American adults are concerned about preventing osteoporosis or bone health issues and perceptions of calcium deficiency exist across age groups, other barriers may be suppressing the consumption of the recommended amounts of calcium. One such barrier may be a disconnect between the benefits of calcium as it relates to bone health. In fact, 18 to 29 year olds are significantly less likely than consumers older than 30 to understand calcium benefits bone health. Even further, the youngest consumers show the least concern for prevention, which may also lessen the overall perceived need for supplemental calcium.
Younger consumers are also less likely to use supplements, with two-thirds of consumers younger than 40 preferring to get all their daily nutritional requirements in the foods they eat, rather than having to take supplements. Younger consumers are also significantly more likely than those older than 40 to say they have difficulty swallowing pills and capsules. It appears, then, the best way to help younger consumers get the required amount of calcium is through food and beverage fortification or alternative [non-pill] supplement delivery systems. In fact, validation exists in that younger consumers state they would prefer to use foods and beverages to prevent and treat osteoporosis and bone-health issues instead of supplements.
While supplements are an efficient and effective way to get the recommended daily requirement of calcium, the number one reason lapsed calcium supplement users cite as to why they no longer take calcium is simply they got tired of taking it and just got out of the routine, especially among older consumers. Further proof of this, consumers older than 50 are more likely than younger consumers to indicate they are dissatisfied with the quantity of pills they have to take. Since older consumers are more likely to be taking prescription medications, adding a supplement regimen to an already existing regimen of pill-taking creates an additional burden for this consumer cohort.
Calcium consumption is an integral part of being able to remain active and healthy from childhood to well into ones golden years. Supplement and fortified-food manufacturers equipped with the knowledge of how consumers view their nutrient deficiencies, what supplement formats are preferred across age groups and the barriers that exist among the different generations will have the best tools to reach their desired target with the most optimum product offerings.
Steve French (email), managing partner at Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), has more than 25 years of marketing, strategic consulting and management experience across numerous industries. NMI is an international strategic consulting, market research and business development firm specializing in the health, wellness and sustainability marketplace.
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