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Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency in Children

By on January 18, 2017
Child Running in the Snow in a green coat with a boy in the snow behind her on his hands and knees

A growing number of studies continue to show the crucial role vitamin D plays in our overall health and well-being. Although many of us believe that we get enough vitamin D from sunlight and our diet, large-scale studies find that deficiency is widespread—not just in adults, but children as well.

Vitamin D promotes healthy growth and development; supports teeth, bone, and muscle health; assists with a healthy immune and cardiovascular system; and aids in a healthier mood. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board’s recommended daily intakes (400 IU of vitamin D per day for infants and 600 IU for children over one). 

The Vitamin D Council, Endocrinology Society, and many physicians feel the recommendations are too low. The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends infants in Northern communities receive 800 IU of vitamin D during winter months. The IOM and Health Canada also state that infants and children below 11 ng/mL or 27.5 nmol/L are deficient, and the Canadian Pediatric Society states that below 25 nmol/L is deficiency.

Although our body can produce vitamin D when ultraviolet rays hit our skin, triggering vitamin D synthesis, conditions need to be near perfect for this to happen. Many children don’t get enough time in the sun during crucial times of the year to make and maintain adequate vitamin D levels. Sunscreen, latitude, time of year and color of skin can also make it difficult to synthesize enough vitamin D, which is why a supplement may be an excellent addition.  

Research supports the need for supplemental vitamin D in children. In Pediatrics 2009, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data results from 2001-2006 found that many children in the United States, especially minorities (non-Hispanic black and Hispanics), have suboptimal vitamin D levels. This study looked at US children ages 1 to 11 years old. The authors found there were 6 million children below the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of D levels, which should be at least 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/L). 

At the 2013 Interscience Conference, researchers presented data regarding vitamin D and its ability to decrease recurrent ear infections. They found that the children who received 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day for four months increased their serum D levels, and thus significantly decreased their amount of ear infections and associated complications compared to the placebo group. 

In the journal, Nutrients, a meta-analysis of several vitamin D studies with infants discovered that babies who received vitamin D in infancy versus those who did not were 29 percent less likely to develop Type 1 diabetes later in life.

There are not very many naturally occurring dietary sources of vitamin D. It can be found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna, and fish liver oils. Some mushrooms provide D2, which our body needs to convert to the bioavailable D3 form. Most dietary vitamin D comes from fortified foods, such as orange juice, non-dairy beverages, egg yolks (from vitamin D-supplemented hens), and some dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese). In Canada, milk is fortified by law with 35-40 IU/mL, and infant formula is mandated to have fortification of 40-80 IU/100 kcal.

When shopping for a supplement, infant or children’s multivitamin/mineral formulas typically have vitamin D. Cod liver oil is also a great source of vitamin D. Another option is an infant or kid’s vitamin D supplement. Help support your kids’ immune systems by adding vitamin D to their vitamin regime—especially now that the cold winter months are upon us. 

1. Canadian Council For Food and Nutrition

2. "Prevalence and Associations of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Deficiency in Children and Adolescents in the United States: Results from NHANES 2001-2004," Pediatrics Vol. 124 No. 3 September 2009, pp. e362-e370

3. Esposito S. Abstract G-1249. Presented at: ICAAC 2013; Sept. 9-13, 2013; Denver

4. Dong JY et al. Vitamin D Intake and Risk of Type 1 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Nutrients, 2013.

5. Vitamin D supplementation may delay precocious puberty in girls. EurekAlert. June 17, 2013.

6. National Institute of Health

A mother kisses her son holding his lunch kit goodbye.

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