Approximately 99% of body Ca is found in bone, where it serves a key structural role as a component of hydroxyapatite. Dietary requirements for Ca are determined by the needs for bone development and maintenance, which vary throughout the life stage, with greater needs during the periods of rapid growth in childhood and adolescence, during pregnancy and lactation, and in later life. There is considerable disagreement between expert groups on the daily Ca intake levels that should be recommended, reflecting the uncertainty in the data for establishing Ca requirements. Inadequate dietary Ca in early life impairs bone development, and Ca supplementation of the usual diet for periods of < or = 3 years has been shown to enhance bone mineral status in children and adolescents. However, it is unclear whether this benefit is long term, leading to the optimisation of peak bone mass in early adulthood. In later years inadequate dietary Ca accelerates bone loss and may contribute to osteoporosis. Ca supplementation of the usual diet in post-menopausal women and older men has been shown to reduce the rate of loss of bone mineral density at a number of sites over periods of 1-2 years. However, the extent to which this outcome reduces fracture risk needs to be determined. Even allowing for disagreements on recommended intakes, evidence indicates that dietary Ca intake is inadequate for maintenance of bone health in a substantial proportion of some population groups, particularly adolescent girls and older women.