The majority of U.S. kids, about 70 percent in all, have low levels of vitamin D, according to data collected on more than 6,000 children ages 1-21.
About 70 percent of U.S. kids have low levels of vitamin D, which may increase their risk of bone disease, heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.
While too little vitamin D has long been linked to the bone disease rickets, researchers are finding that the vitamin impacts much more than just your bones, and low levels may increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and other illnesses later in life.
The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, found that 9 percent, or 7.6 million U.S children, were vitamin D deficient, while another 61 percent, or 50.8 million were vitamin D insufficient.
“We expected the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency would be high, but the magnitude of the problem nationwide was shocking,” Dr. Juhi Kumar of Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center said in a LiveScience article.
Why is Vitamin D so Important to Your Health, and to Your Child’s, Health?
Vitamin D is more than just a “vitamin.” In fact, its metabolic product, called calcitriol, is actually a secosteroid hormone that impacts over 2,000 genes in your body, according to the Vitamin D Council. They write:
“Current research has implicated vitamin D deficiency as a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and more.
Vitamin D’s influence on key biological functions vital to one’s health and well-being mandates that vitamin D no longer be ignored by the health care industry nor by individuals striving to achieve and maintain a greater state of health.”
Vitamin D has also shown great promise in fighting off the flu, and people who are deficient may be more likely to get infected.
Five studies have shown an inverse relationship between lower respiratory tract infections and 25(OH)D [vitamin D] levels. Simply stated, the higher your vitamin D level, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flu, and other respiratory tract infections.
The link is so promising that the Public Health Agency of Canada began investigating the role of vitamin D in protection against flu including the swine flu.
Why are So Many Kids Lacking in Vitamin D?
Your skin makes vitamin D from sun exposure, and one of the primary reasons why people, including kids, don’t get enough is because they’re not spending enough time outdoors, or are wearing sunscreen when they do (which blocks vitamin D production).
“Standing outside 15 minutes a day three times a week lets the skin produce enough vitamin D most of the year,” says Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University.
Because people with dark-pigmented skin require more time in the sun to produce vitamin D, they are especially at risk of vitamin D deficiency and, consequently, rickets.
Certain foods, such as milk and orange juice, are fortified with vitamin D, but some natural health experts say the form of vitamin D used for fortification is not ideal.
Foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon and, to a lesser degree, mushrooms, organ meets and egg yolks, but it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone.
Further, although the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its vitamin D guidelines for infants, children, and teens to 400 IU per day in supplement form, many health experts say that amount is still far too low.
“The skin produces approximately 10,000 IU vitamin D in response 20–30 minutes summer sun exposure — 50 times more than the US government’s recommendation of 200 IU per day [for adults]!” states the Vitamin D Council. They continue:
“If well adults and adolescents regularly avoid sunlight exposure, research indicates a necessity to supplement with at least 5,000 units (IU) of vitamin D daily.”
How to Make Sure Your Kids are Getting Enough Vitamin D
Many doctors now recommend getting regular sun exposure to keep your vitamin D levels up. Dr. Michal L. Melamed of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, who led the above study, told LiveScience:
Enhance Your Body’s Absorption of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is meant to be made in your skin after sun exposure, and is not typically well absorbed in supplement form. But because many people do not have access to sunshine year-round, supplementation is often necessary to keep your vitamin D levels in the optimal range.
“Just 15 to 20 minutes a day should be enough. And unless they [your children] burn easily, don’t put sunscreen on them until they’ve been out in the sun for 10 minutes, so they get the good stuff but not sun damage.”
If you or your child cannot get out in the sun, experts recommend supplementing with a vitamin D3 supplement, which is the same natural vitamin D your body makes when exposed to the sun. Avoid vitamin D2, which is synthetic and may be less safe and less effective.
A Doctor’s Office blood test can determine whether your vitamin D levels are high enough. The Vitamin D Council recommends adjusting your dosage so that blood levels are between 50-80 ng/mL (or 125-200 nM/L) year-round.
If you’re a parent to a new baby, keep in mind that researchers have also linked lower levels of vitamin D to breastfed infants who do not receive supplemental vitamin D. If a breastfeeding woman is low in the nutrient, then her breast milk will be as well. So while breastfeeding is still the best choice, experts recommend supplementing babies’ diets with vitamin D.