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Vitamin D Deficiency in Children

A true epidemic of vitamin D deficiency exists among this nation’s children. The American Academy of Pediatrics studied almost 10,000 young people ages 1-21 from diverse ethnic backgrounds and geographic locations, and the results were startling—9% (7.6 million) are vitamin D deficient and an additional 61% (50.8 million) had insufficient levels of vitamin D in the blood.

What does this mean for children’s health?

Vitamin D deficiency brings not only serious consequences for the bones, but can also lead to a range of other health problems. Rickets, a children’s disease that softens the bones, potentially causing fractures and deformity, is re-emerging in the U.S. Parathyroid hormone levels were also elevated among those in the study who were vitamin D deficient – an indicator that the bones lack the calcium and vitamin D needed to grow.

What are the risk factors?

Researchers saw vitamin D deficiency among all ages and ethnic groups. They identified particular factors that correlated with the deficiency:

  • Poverty
  • Obesity
  • Gender (girls are more likely to be deficient.)
  • Television, video game, and/or computer use of more than 4 hours per day
  • Milk consumption less than once a day
  • Age (older children/adolescents are more often deficient.)
  • Darker skin

The last risk factor places Latinos and African-Americans at greater risk. Greater amounts of melatonin in darker skin makes vitamin D absorption more difficult.

What can be done?

With proper attention, vitamin D deficiency can be reversed but it will require a conscious effort on the part of parents and, as they get older, children themselves. For children and adolescents, 5 mcg (200 I.U.) are recommended per day. Ways to get your vitamin D:

  • Diet: Milk is the best source if it is fortified with vitamin D, and the bonus is high amounts of calcium for optimum bone health. Vitamin D is also found in fatty fish, cod liver oil and other fortified products.
  • Supplements: Most children’s multivitamins contain vitamin D, so read the label.
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