Nutritionists, government officials and educators from across the US have joined forces to draw up a new action plan to combat one of the country's leading health problems - calcium deficiency. Poor eating patterns - the over-consumption of low nutrient foods and under-consumption of nutrient-rich foods such as milk - are to blame for the disturbingly low levels of calcium in many children and adolescents, delegates were told at the recent Calcium Summit II in Washington. The problem is particularly troubling for teens: nearly nine out of 10 girls and seven out of 10 boys fail to meet current calcium recommendations (1,300 mg per day for ages 9-18 years). Research unveiled at the summit showed that calcium consumed during adolescence may be one of the single most important factors determining a child's future risk of osteoporosis. Part of the problem is the arrival of soft drinks in US schools. Milk was the traditional lunchtime drink at many schools, but with soft drink companies promising substantial funds to schools if they are allowed to market their products directly to children in the lunch hall, the situation has changed dramatically. Teenagers now drink twice as many soft drinks as they do milk, and this, combined with a lack of exercise, may be laying the groundwork for weak bones in adulthood, the Summit was told. Research reveals a link between heavy soft drink consumption during adolescence and reduced bone mass, which can greatly increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life. "So many of us see children in our offices who are replacing milk and other calcium-rich foods with excessive amounts of juice or colas," said Laura Tosi, MD, a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, one of the major supporters of the Calcium Summit II. "We at AAOS believe that, as health professionals, it is important for us to find ways to encourage milk-drinking habits while kids are in the growing years to help reduce the risk of bone fractures." Tosi joined other nutrition and medical leaders at the Summit to help develop an "agenda for action" to address the widespread calcium deficiencies among children and teenagers. These action steps include: Showing parents how children can easily get at least three servings of dairy products a day and encouraging parents to be role models for their children by consuming dairy products at mealtimes Offering more milk varieties in schools and fewer soft drinks so children can make healthy food choices more easily Increasing awareness with paediatricians to include a calcium check-up in their back to school physicals As a first action step, a new programme was announced providing $30,000 in nutrition education grants for community-based programmes to help increase calcium intake among young people.