Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Education

Diet and bone health

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 01 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:020357
  1. Sarah Schenker, British Nutrition Foundation1
  1. 1London

In the sixth article in our series on nutrition, Sarah Schenker explains the importance of calcium and vitamin D

Diet is an important factor in forming healthy bones. The mineral calcium is obtained from the diet and deposited in bones and teeth. Vitamin D is required for this process.

A healthy diet providing adequate calcium at all stages of life, coupled with an active lifestyle, will help to ensure strong bones. This is particularly important during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood when bones are developing. Peak bone mass is reached at the age of about 30 to 35. It is the stage at which the skeleton is strongest. After this age bone mass decreases. Optimising peak bone mass at skeletal maturity provides important protection against osteoporosis in later life.

Around 90-95% of peak bone mass is attained by the end of the second decade. Adolescence is a particularly critical period, with approximately 40% of peak bone mass in girls being laid down during this time. This process is under strong genetic control but other determinants include physical activity, especially weight bearing exercise, such as brisk walking, running, and climbing stairs, and nutritional factors, such as dietary calcium and blood levels of vitamin D.


Osteoporosis is an increasing problem in the United Kingdom. It causes considerable pain and disability and costs the NHS in excess of £940m to treat each year.1 It is a disease characterised by loss of bone mass and a deterioration in structural strength, in which the bones become fragile and susceptible to fracture, particularly at the hip, wrist, and spine. Osteoporosis most frequently affects older women who have gone through the menopause but it can affect men and younger women. One in three women and one in 12 men suffer from osteoporosis in the United Kingdom. …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription