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African-American Women Lacking Calcium

Survey finds 96 percent don't get their required daily servings of milk

MONDAY, Sept. 3, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- African-American women aren't drinking enough milk to get the bone-healthy calcium they need, says a new survey.

The poll of 508 African-American women between the ages of 25 and 55 found that 96 percent of them drink at most two glasses of milk each day, which falls short of the recommended three 8-oz. servings. Only 58 percent said they drink or eat dairy products, while 42 percent said they consume dairy products rarely or not at all.

The information from the online survey was compiled by Impulse Research Corporation on behalf of the Milk Processor Education Program.

Although 43 percent of the women said they don't drink milk because they are lactose intolerant, 71 percent of those surveyed said they have little or no understanding about lactose intolerance and its effects.

The average African-American woman is getting only about half the recommended daily amount of calcium, says Dr. Jeanette Keith, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Chicago Hospitals.

That lack of sufficient calcium could increase their risk of osteoporosis, once considered a disease of older white women.

"In the past, we didn't even think it was a disease that affected African-American women," Keith adds. "But now, with studies including those (African-American) populations, we're realizing that 10 percent already have undiagnosed osteoporosis, and 30 percent have low bone density and are at tremendous increased risk."

African-American women tend to have higher bone-mineral density than white women. But Keith says as African-American women age, their risk of developing osteoporosis increases, so that by age 75 their risk is the same as their white counterparts.

She says that can be dangerous because African-American women are more likely than white women to die after a hip fracture.

As for lactose intolerance, it's estimated that 75 percent of African-Americans are lactose intolerant, compared to 25 percent of the overall U.S. population. But Keith says that shouldn't prevent African-American women from getting their calcium from dairy products.

She says 85 to 90 percent of people who say they're lactose intolerant can tolerate milk and dairy products when they consume them in small, frequent amounts throughout the day.

"African-Americans tend to have from 10 to 30 percent lower calcium intake than other Americans of the same age and sex. And since most Americans aren't getting enough calcium, it follows that the African-Americans are in an even more perilous state," says Dr. Robert Heaney, a calcium and osteoporosis expert at Creighton University in Omaha.

Osteoporosis is just one potential consequence of not getting enough calcium. Hypertension, stroke and renal failure have all been associated with low calcium intake, Heaney says.

"So there are other costs. It's too simplistic to think of calcium only in terms of the bones. That's the obvious thing that's captured our attention. But there's more to the story than that," he says.

Although you can get calcium through other types of food and supplements, dairy products are the most nutritious source, Heaney says.

What to Do: For more information, go to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, or the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

SOURCES: Interviews with Jeanette Keith, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine, gastroenterology/nutrition department, University of Chicago Hospitals; Robert Heaney, M.D., John Creighton University professor, professor of medicine, Osteoporosis Research Center, Creighton University Medical Center, Omaha, Neb.
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