Cereal Company Responding to America's Critical Calcium Deficit

Americans across the country believe they are getting enough calcium in their diets yet the reality is that most are not. In a nationwide survey, Americans who said they believed they were getting enough calcium amounted to 68 percent. United States Department of Agriculture food consumption data show only 20 percent are consuming enough calcium and that 80 percent of adult Americans do not meet the recommended intake of calcium each day.

In response to this nation's critical shortfall in calcium consumption, General Mills announced today that Total breakfast cereal will be the only food in the grocery store with 100 percent fortification of the bone-building mineral, calcium, in a single serving. This important move comes at a time when America seems to be locked in a losing battle against calcium deficiency.

"I am seeing more and more fractures due to osteoporosis in my clinical practice," said Felicia Cosman, M.D., who specializes in treating osteoporosis at Helen Hayes Hospital in New York. "Osteoporosis is debilitating and painful, and it is on the rise. As the baby boom generation continues to age, we could experience an osteoporosis epidemic effecting more than 41 million Americans.

"If we start eating calcium-rich foods now, we could see a dramatic impact in the fight to reduce the risk of developing this disease," Dr. Cosman said.

Breaking down USDA consumption data, 90 percent of adult women do not meet recommended intakes of calcium. Of adult men, 75 percent do not. More than seven out of 10 children fail to get the calcium they need. More than 75 percent of teenagers fall short of consuming the recommended daily calcium levels.

Fortifying foods with calcium is an important public health strategy to help Americans achieve an optimal calcium intake, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH recommends calcium-fortified foods as an important option to help meet calcium requirements and encourages food companies to develop and market more calcium-rich foods.

Whole Grain Total, in the blue box, will now be fortified with 1000 milligrams of calcium per serving. In addition to Whole Grain Total, General Mills will now be adding 1000 milligrams of calcium per serving to Total Raisin Bran and Total Corn Flakes. Calcium fortification in each of the three Total cereals was increased from 25 percent of the Daily Value to 100 percent.

Bioavailability (absorption) of the calcium in Total cereal is the same as the calcium in milk. Experts agree that it would be difficult for anyone to consistently consume extreme levels of calcium from foods and that health problems are not likely to occur with intakes below 5,000 milligrams per day.

Consumers should see the new Total boxes featuring a wide banner across the front announcing the 100 percent calcium fortification in grocery stores across America within the next few weeks.

The National Academy of Sciences recognized the need for more calcium three years ago when it significantly increased daily calcium recommendations for nearly every age group. For adults ages 25 to 50, the daily amount of calcium was increased from 800 to 1,000 milligrams, and for seniors ages 51 plus, the recommended amount of calcium was increase by 50 percent from 800 to 1,200 milligrams per day. During the prime bone-building years of 9 to 18, young people need 1,300 mg of calcium each day.

The USDA national food consumption survey shows that Americans are drinking less milk, once a primary source of calcium, while consumption of soft drinks is increasing. This trend has left many with diets dangerously deficient in calcium.

Among teen-age girls, calcium deficiency is even more alarming. According to the USDA, nine out of 10 teen-age girls fail to consume the calcium they need.

For more and more Americans, the threat of osteoporosis has become a never-ending nightmare.

"I thought I always ate the right foods so I was shocked and absolutely horrified when I found out I had osteoporosis," said Ellen Clarke, 65, who recently broke her back due to osteoporosis after a minor fall while walking her dog in a park. "Osteoporosis has impacted my life. I would love to rollerblade or try skiing, but I'm terrified that I'll break something."

Adequate calcium in the diet can be an important weapon in fighting osteoporosis. The brittle bone disease affects one out of every two women over age 50 and one of every eight men, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Within 20 years, more than 41 million Americans will be stricken with osteoporosis if trends for calcium consumption are not reversed and other preventative measures are not taken, such as weight bearing exercise, healthy lifestyle and medication in later life if needed, according to the NOF. A woman's risk of hip fracture is equal to the combined risk of developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.