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:
- 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.