It can be crippling, expensive and sometimes deadly. The lack of calcium in the American diet – which can lead to osteoporosis and other health problems – is now a public health priority. With 28 million Americans afflicted with osteoporosis and $13.8 billion dollars in associated health costs, it's time to count your calcium.

Here are ten reasons you should up your intake:

  • No matter what your age, you need calcium. If your diet lacks this precious nutrient, it steals calcium directly from your bones – putting you at risk for serious fractures and osteoporosis.
  • Most bone mass is deposited during the first three decades of life. Unfortunately, you can't increase bone density after age thirty. But you can maintain your bone strength by making sure you consume the recommended amount of calcium daily.
  • Dairy foods come in many low-fat and fat free varieties and are the richest sources of calcium in the American food supply. Just one glass of milk, a cup of yogurt or a one and one-half inch cube of cheese is a serving.
  • It is absolutely critical for teens to get enough calcium. Nearly half of all bone is formed in the teen years. Make the calcium investment now – three servings a day. It is impossible to make up for it later.
  • Kids who choose milk with school lunch are more likely to meet or exceed their daily calcium requirements. Consequently, kids who don't take milk fall short.
  • Nine out of 10 women and seven out of 10 men fail to meet calcium requirements. Adults need at least three servings of calcium a day to prevent bone loss.
  • More than half of children in America do not get enough calcium. Without it, they can't reach their maximum bone mass as adults. Children ages 1-8 need two and one-half or three small servings of dairy a day. If you're between 9 and 18 years old, you need three servings!
  • Women and teenage girls are particularly at risk in this calcium crisis. Some consume less than one serving of dairy even though they need three servings to ward off osteoporosis.
  • Nutrient-rich dairy foods contain calcium and eight other essential nutrients. Dairy foods may also reduce your risk of some cancers, high blood pressure and obesity.