Sources of Calcium and Lazy Reporting in the Media

Sources of Calcium and Lazy Reporting in the Media

There have been some interesting news reports in the past few days sparked by a news item from the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) entitled: Three million young adults putting their future health in danger.
EDIT 07/07/17 this item no longer seems to be on the NOS website.
The item expresses concerns about young people cutting dairy from their diet and the potential impact on their future bone health.

‘The National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) is warning that the current eating habits of teenagers and young adults is a ticking time bomb for their bones and time is running out for them to prevent permanent damage.

…In addition, 20% had cut or significantly reduced dairy in their diet. Dairy is an important source of calcium, vital in building bone strength when you are young.’

Whilst the NOS campaign is well founded and largely helpful the mdeia took the NOS release and went down the lazy (sensationalist) route to perpetuate the myth that dairy is the best source of dietary calcium and it is dangerous to cut out this food group. I listened to the Today Programme on Radio 4 where this ‘fact’ was stated several times and the spokesperson from NOS didn’t challenge that view until the end of the interview that there are multiple sources of calcium and dairy is just one.

A balanced and varied diet is essential for health and bone health and should be a significant priority- particularly for women (where hormone levels can also affect bone health). The primer for good bone health throughout life is a good diet in your late teens and early twenties. This is a challenge – many people in their late teens and early twenties feel invincible and this important advice and information falls on deaf ears (just like drinking and smoking). Where risk taking behaviour has a delayed impact the risks are perceived differently: as much reduced. This is perhaps why the NOS have called their associated campaign Message to My Younger Self.

Having looked through the NOS website it does appear to be largely balanced but does focus on dairy as being a good source of calcium in a ‘western’ diet. I’m not sure what a ‘western’ diet is. One rich in dairy? However it also appears to be rather defensive of the views expressed as part of the media campaign last week and seems to have tried to provide a more balanced stance on calcium sources. Disappointingly the website lacks any substantial advice or information on the complex relationship between calcium, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals which means that supplementing a poor diet (or gastric problems) with lots of dairy or calcium tablets is a waste of time. Information is not well presented or presented in a coherent or practical level of detail. Ultimately the website is rather patronising and only provides a superficial level of information. However the NOS is funded partly via membership subscriptions so perhaps there is more detailed information and support available to members. But if I was launching a national campaign I would perhaps ensure I had suitable and appropriate resources in place and had a strategy and plan for possible feedback (positive and negative). That approach might even drive up membership and income!

There are lots of vegan sources of calcium including: nuts (the almond tree in full blossom in the picture provided a bumper crop last year), seeds, beans, leafy green vegetables, soya (in all forms) and some fruit. However equally important is a lifestyle where enough vitamin D is produced from exposure to the sun, the right amount of protein is eaten, vitamin B complexes are ingested and the wider range of vitamins and minerals provided by a balanced diet.

A lifestyle including a varied and balanced diet is not rocket science but misinformation (from all interested parties) and lazy and sensational reporting of sensible news stories often win out over a sensible, rational and informed approach to diet and lifestyle.


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