Vitamin D Deficiency Children

Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health and growth. Because childhood is a key time for bone development, it’s particularly important that infants, children and teens get adequate amounts of vitamin D, either through sun exposure, diet or supplements.

However, many children may not be getting enough vitamin D. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 70 percent of U.S. children may have inadequate levels of vitamin D, and that black and Hispanic children were particularly at risk of low vitamin D levels. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids get 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D every day.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

Limited sun exposure is a major cause of low levels of vitamin D in children. Increases in both the amount of time spent indoors and the use of sunscreen may be contributing to low levels of vitamin D in children. In addition, certain groups of children and teens may be at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, including:

  • Breastfed infants
  • Lactose intolerant individuals or people who follow a strict vegetarian diet
  • People who have trouble absorbing vitamin D
  • Those who live in northern climates
  • Those with dark skin.

The study in Pediatrics found that children at high risk for vitamin D deficiency may also include those who:

  • Are obese
  • Are female
  • Drink milk less than once a week
  • Play video games on a regular basis
  • Watch TV or use computers for more than four hours a day./li>

Health Effects of Vitamin D Deficiency

Children who do not get enough vitamin D are likely to have problems with bone growth. In severe cases, children may develop rickets, a softening of the bones. Low vitamin D levels have also been linked to conditions such as hear disease and breast cancer.

Vitamin D deficiency symptoms in children and teens include muscle aches, bone pain and weakness. Infants who are at risk of developing rickets may have muscle spasms. Other signs of rickets include a soft skull in young infants, and slowness to crawl and sit up in older babies. Young children may exhibit abnormal bone growth, have a curved spine or be bow-legged. Older children and teens may feel pain when they walk and have flattened pelvic bones.

How to Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency

A few minutes of sun exposure every day is the easiest and most efficient way to boost vitamin D levels. Exposing the skin on the legs, hands or face for as little as five minutes a day, without sunscreen, can be enough to combat vitamin deficiency.

Vitamin D can also be found in certain food, including:

  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Cod liver oil
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified milks and juices
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Tuna.

It is difficult for most people to get enough vitamin D from diet alone. For children and teens that have trouble getting enough vitamin D through sun exposure and diet, doctors may recommend vitamin D supplements.

Resources

MedlinePlus (2008). Rickets. Retrieved December 13, 2009 from the MedlinePlus website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000344.htm.

Merck Home Manual. (n.d.). Vitamin D. Retrieved December 13, 2009 from the Merck website: http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec12/ch154/ch154j.html.

Mitchell, D. (2009). Vitamin D levels inadequate in 70 percent of U.S. children. Retrieved December 13, 2009 from the American Academy of Family Physicians’ website: http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/publications/news/news-now/health-of-the-public/20090818vit-d.html.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2009). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. Retrieved December 13, 2009 from the National Institutes of Health website: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind.asp.