WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For the first time, teenage boys were invited to attend Camp Calcium on the Purdue University campus this summer, and 47 young males accepted the invitation.
The camp gets its name because it is actually a research project studying osteoporosis, a bone disease that can be prevented by eating the proper amount of calcium during the teenage years.
Osteoporosis, which means porous bone, is a disease caused by the deterioration of bone tissue. This deterioration can lead to fractures, especially in the hip, spine and wrist.
An estimated 80 percent of those with osteoporosis are women, and the disease primarily affects older women.
However, Connie Weaver, distinguished professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue, says recent studies have found that millions of men also suffer from osteoporosis.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 2 million men in the United States have the disease, and 3 million more are at risk. Each year, men suffer one-third of all the hip fractures in the nation, and one-third of these fractures ultimately are fatal.
Weaver says factors such as physical activity, diet and hormones can greatly affect the amount of bone growth in the teenage years. These factors are different for males and females.
"Males are more efficient at building bones, but they may require more calcium to build their larger skeletons," she says. "We don't know to what extent the changing hormones of adolescence play in this. That's one of the things we're working to find out."
For years the medical and scientific communities have assumed that the calcium dietary needs for boys are the same as those for girls, says Berdine Martin, research associate in Purdue's Department of Foods and Nutrition.
Currently, the recommended daily levels of calcium for boys is 800 milligrams up to age 8 and 1,300 milligrams for ages 9–18, but these recommendations are based on research on adolescent girls.
"There haven't been any studies to actually determine if that is true," Martin says. "It's important that we do these studies to determine if the dietary needs are the same for both genders."
Determining the proper daily dietary calcium intake levels for boys is the goal of this year's Camp Calcium.
During their six weeks at Purdue, campers receive at least the average amount of calcium that people in their age groups get in this country. Researchers provide meals for the students so they can be certain of their daily dietary intake and check campers' waste and blood samples each day.
"The boys will be getting from 800 to 2,200 milligrams of calcium per day," Martin says. "In order to estimate the optimum calcium intake levels, we have to give the boys a wide range of calcium levels."
Research from this year's Camp Calcium will help set dietary guidelines for men that will help slow the body's bone density decline that occurs after middle age.
The camp is funded by a $1.3 million grant from the National Institute of Health's Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Campers are paid up to $300 if they complete all six weeks of the camp.
This summer's Camp Calcium is the seventh since the program began in 1990. The camp continues through Aug. 4.
To the campers, Camp Calcium doesn't feel like a tightly controlled research project. Instead, it's six weeks of fun.
This summer the boys are being treated to mini-sports camps led by Purdue athletic department staff and athletes, field trips, movies, nutrition and health classes and educational opportunities set up by the chemistry and physics departments and the School of Veterinary Medicine. Researchers also determining the fitness level of each participant.
Daniel Loehr, a 13-year-old from Churubusco, Ind., says Camp Calcium is a good way to spend the summer. "It's better than staying at home and sleeping all day. That's what I usually do."
Loehr has learned more from the camp than the benefits of early rising, however.
"I've learned that you should eat a lot better and get more calcium," he says.
Information from a previous Purdue Camp Calcium was used by the National Academy of Sciences to establish new dietary guidelines for calcium in 1997.
"All of us in the lab are quite proud of what we've been able to accomplish," Martin says. "Camp Calcium is unique—no one else has been able to conduct this type of research, which requires the total dietary control of the participants for weeks at a time."
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