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Children and Vitamin D Deficiency - What are the signs?

Vitamin D, kids and sun


Did you know that vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common in children?  Do you know why and what you can do to prevent it? We are here to help answer those questions and more. 

Why are children Vitamin D deficient?

Two common reasons are poor diet and lack of sun exposure. Our children are at an increased risk of various medical conditions when their diets are not balanced.  

The lack of outdoor playtime impacts more than just this nutrient.  Children are suffering from various health, social and growth issues. Fortunately, parents are becoming more aware of this, and we are seeing kids enjoying the great outdoors again.   

Research performed in the Netherlands, studied 4,167 children that were 6 years old.(1) The goal was to find out why there is an increase in childhood vitamin D deficiency. The results were alarming.

  • Researchers found that 23.6% of the children studied were vitamin D deficient.
  • Only about one-third had an optimal level of  this vitamim. 
  • 36.5% had "sufficient" levels (This level is still a concern if other medical conditions exist)
  • Winter brought about a 51.3% higher level of deficiency
  • Children of Moroccan, Turkish, African or Asian descent were 54.5% more likely to be deficient.  This is due to their darker skin tones. 

32% of children from the study that watch two or more hours of television a day deficient. Our bodies do not make vitamin D without sunlight.  We need to make time daily to enjoy some sunshine.   

Signs of Vitamin D deficiency:

Researchers are making a connection between this important vitamin and many medical problems.  At this time there is still a lot to learn. They do know vitamin D plays an important role in overall health. 

Chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and some autoimmune conditions are just three diseases that may be connected to vitamin D.  Bone health relies on calcium and vitamin D. Prolonged deficiency may lead to osteoporosis. Sufferers have weakened bones and often struggle with easily broken bones.  

Rickets is a childhood bone disease.  One sign is what we know as bow legs. The bones become soft and distorted from insufficient vitamin D.  If you suspect your child is experiencing any of these conditions reach out to your doctor for guidance.   

What amount of Vitamin D do children need?

The National Institutes of Health states that children one year or older need 600 international units (IU) per day. (2)  Under 12 months of age, 400 IU daily is ideal.  At age 70 we need to increase this to 800 IU.  

This becomes a concern when the infant is completely or partially breastfed.  Researchers suggest that 400 IU of vitamin D supplement be provided to these children. (3)  Infants that receive their nutrients only through formula do not need supplements.  All baby formula, manufactured in the United States, must have the required daily allowance.

The need for adequate vitamin D in the first year became more obvious in 2010. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 12 months should receive a screening for vitamin D deficiency. (4)

How can kids get more Vitamin D?

Vitamin D, sun and kids

Get outside and soak up the rays!

Many factors make it difficult to find an exact “prescription” for how much sunlight exposure is needed.  Skin tone, what region you live in, medical conditions, medications prescribed and more. Even fair skin children in certain regions have difficulty getting enough sun exposure. 

Getting a few minutes of sun exposure sounds like a simple answer. UV rays cannot penetrate sunscreen.  Unfortunately, not using sunscreen can lead to skin cancer. UV rays also have difficulty penetrating darker skin tones. 

Eat a diet that provides Vitamin D

Vitamin D fortified milk and foods rarely provide full daily allowances in just one serving.  That does not mean it isn’t worth eating them. You just need to work out a balanced diet that consistently provides variety.  

When shopping in the seafood section look for fatty fish varieties.  They contain the largest amount of D. According to WebMD, three ounces of salmon has 450 IU of vitamin D. (5) 

Nearly all milk in the United States is fortified with vitamin D.  A quart of milk provides the daily recommended allowance needed by children and adolescents.  Keep in mind, non-dairy based milks are becoming more common. These are rarely fortified with this important nutrient.  

Some cereals, orange juice and yogurt are fortified as well.  Read your labels and plan wisely. A little meal prep time and fun in the sun can be the key to success.  

One more key thing to consider is calcium.  It plays a huge role in how much vitamin d a body will actually absorb.  

Supplements

Not all supplements are created equal.  It is just as important to read these labels.  Vitamin D supplements should not contain a list of ingredients that don’t contribute to absorption of this important nutrient.  

Ideally you will want to consider one that includes K2.  This aids in the absorption process just like calcium does.  

Is Vitamin D safe?

Yes, when consumed wisely.  Just like anything in life, consuming too much can be dangerous. It is rare to consume too much through our diets.  Read the labels on supplements and follow them closely.   

High levels of vitamin D can create toxicity.  Signs are constipation, nausea, poor appetite, vomiting, weakness or weight loss.  If your doctor suggests that vitamin D levels are too high ask for further guidance to ensure a smooth recovery.  

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Sources:

  1. www.academic.oup.com
  2. www.ods.od.nih.gov
  3. www.healthychildren.org 
  4. www.aap.org
  5. www.webmd.com