Even Supplement Takers Don’t Get Enough Calcium

Data from a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey were analyzed to understand how calcium and energy intake changes with age. The difference between calcium intake of those who took calcium supplements and those who did not, and their calcium density were examined. The survey concluded that dietary intake of calcium decreased with age, while the use of calcium supplement increased. “Yet, among female supplement users, the decline in median dietary calcium intake was greater than in nonusers.” In the older age group, calcium was insufficient, despite increase in supplementation, meaning an increased risk of osteoporosis.

In the United States, fractures are common after the age of 18. An average American has low calcium intake, as compared to the minimum amount recommended. Men over 40 and women over 20 do not have the necessary amount of calcium, leading to bone related problems. Calcium is acquired from foods and dietary supplements. As food intake reduces with age, the intake of calcium is also reduced. This study determined the calcium consumed by an average adult over lifetime, how it is correlated with food consumption, and what the differences are in calcium concentration in the diet, across various age groups. The data analyzed gave a clear understanding of health habits of Americans, including calcium consumption.


  • Data from 9,475 participants, who were older than 19 years of age, was analyzed.
  • Data for men and women were analyzed independently. The youngest person was used as a standard for measuring changes over the ages.
  • The participants were asked to recall what they ate and in what amounts, over the last 24 hours. An automated method quantified the information and determined the calcium intake. Statistical methods were used to adjust the differences in race and economic status.
  • Supplements used calcium in various forms (e.g., calcium carbonate). Quantities of calcium as an element were calculated from each of these. Total calcium intake was calculated by adding the dietary and supplemental doses.


  • Calcium consumption through diet decreased as a person got older. Energy intake (food consumption) also decreased steadily with age.
  • More than half the participants above 19 years used calcium supplements. It was found that supplement consumption increased with age.
  • Surprisingly, supplement users also consumed more dietary calcium than nonusers. In women, this decreased faster with increasing age.
  • The use of calcium supplements brought calcium levels closer to desirable ones.

Shortcomings/Next steps
Among women, users of supplemental calcium had higher dietary calcium intake, though it decreased with the growing age. It is necessary to find out if reduced calcium in food with age corresponds with the increased calcium supplements. Also, the information in this study is based on what the participant remembers to have eaten, and is prone to error. The intake in the past 24 hours may not be a typical intake either.

Calcium is essential for preventing osteoporosis and keeping the bones strong. Calcium is primarily acquired by the body through foods like milk products. As the food intake decreases with age, so does calcium intake, affecting bone density and causing bone-related health problems. Osteoporosis is common, as one advances in age. It is important to eat foods that are high in calcium and take calcium supplements throughout one’s lifetime. Statistically, supplement users also seem to consume more calcium via food; probably this shows that these users are more health conscious. Using calcium supplements is now an established method of increased calcium intake; however, eating calcium-rich foods should also be given due consideration.

For More Information:
Calcium Intake in the United States from Food and Supplements across Adult Age Groups: New Estimates from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2006
Publication Journal: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, May 2011
By Kelsey Mangano; Stephen Walsh
From the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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