Page last updated at 23:30 GMT, Saturday, 27 June 2009 00:30 UK

'I really worry about my bones'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Lauren and Robert Rees
Lauren wants to protect her bones

Lauren Rees has a good diet - plenty of calcium and no fizzy drinks.

She exercises regularly, playing rugby and netball, and is a keen walker.

Despite being aged just 11, Lauren knows the benefits of good bone health and is determined to build up as good a bone mass as possible.

She has had to learn about bone health early in life because her father Robert has osteoporosis.

Building bone

Osteoporosis - literally "porous bones" - causes a loss of mineral density in the bones, which makes them more likely to break.

Robert is just 50, but has the bones of an 80-year-old and has broken his back twice.

I hope my dad's story will serve as a warning you don't have to be old to get osteoporosis
Lauren Rees

Young people need to 'bank' strong bones before they reach 30 in order to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Lauren is also an asthmatic and knows that steroid use puts her at added risk.

"I do worry about my future," she said.

"I have asthma and know, because of my dad, I'm at risk of osteoporosis.

"I was frightened when my dad broke his back and I cried.

"My dad can't play with me much because he is always at risk of another fracture.

"I wish my dad could be well but my mum says I shouldn't worry.

"I hope my dad's story will serve as a warning - you don't have to be old to get osteoporosis."

Website help

But although Lauren is well aware of the risks, the National Osteoporosis Society says many youngsters and their parents are not so well educated about bone health.

They found that almost half of the 2,615 young people they surveyed did not how to protect their bones and so have launched a new website Bones4life to try to rectify this.

Osteoporosis.Pic:Prof P Motta/Dept of Anatomy/University 'la Sapienza, Rome/SPL
Bones become thin and weak with osteoporosis

The website is tailored for seven to 10-year-olds and linked to the national curriculum, so that it can be used in schools.

Divided into two sections, the children's part of the website includes a flash game, fun educational quizzes and a gallery where their work can be posted. The adult section aimed at parents and teachers hosts a variety of resources including lesson plans.

Illustrating the site are three characters that children can interact with, developed by the charity to represent the three main elements required to look after your bones.

There is Sneakers, the exercise lover, who knows that weight-bearing exercise is important for general health and strengthening bones; Munch who loves healthy eating and calcium rich foods and Blaze who gets power from sunlight, which enables the body to produce bone-healthy vitamin D.

Lesley Millard, education officer for the National Osteoporosis Society, said the new site would definitely fill a void.

"Our research highlighted massive shortfalls in knowledge around bone health in young people.

"The majority were unaware that exercise can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and one in three did not know about the positive role diet can play. "

Lauren agreed that the new website was a good way of airing the issue.

"Children should think now and eat sensibly and exercise to make their bones strong for the future," she said.

"It's important to think of our bones like a bank and what we do as children has an effect later in life."

Taking care

Lauren's father Robert said his history had made the family very careful with Lauren's bone health.

"She is very alert about osteoporosis and does presentations at school about it.

"She is 11 now and from the age of four she has grown up with me being ill.

Make sure you get enough calcium-rich foods like dairy foods, broccoli and dried apricots
Weight-bearing exercise (like walking, dancing and running) helps you build stronger bones
Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps you get all the nutrients you need for strong bones

"She does not know any different. It has been part of her life, but I am very worried about the effect on Lauren's bones.

"We give her cheese and milk, things high in calcium, and we're giving her the five-a-day fruit and vegetables. She still has takeaways as a treat, but she has a milkshake rather than a coke.

"It is just getting children to be sensible."

Professor Roger Francis, a bone consultant based at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, said everyone should think early about their bone health.

"I think the important thing is to make children aware of their skeletons and bones and adopt healthy lifestyles in childhood, which will then be continued late in life.

"Throughout childhood it is important that children have a diet rich in calcium and that they avoid the dieting that some girls adopt.

"And obviously physical activity is very important in terms of building strong bones.

"And as they get older avoid excess alcohol and smoking which are bad for bones, but also other things, and have sunlight and vitamin D."

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