A study of 6,000 American children published in Nutrients found that their average intake of Vitamin D was just over half the recommended amount — 248 milligrams, compared with the recommended 400 milligrams.
Why is Vitamin D important?
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones. Vitamin D makes it possible for our bodies to absorb calcium. It’s also important for building strong muscles, which may explain why Vitamin D deficiency is correlated with heart disease. There is also evidence that Vitamin D deficiency might be connected with osteoporosis and some cancers. For children, the growth of strong bones and muscles is the most important function of Vitamin D.
Extreme Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a disease called rickets, in which bones do not grow straight and strong. Instead, they are soft, and the person’s own weight can cause them to bend and become misshapen. Rickets was essentially eradicated in the industrialized nations in the 20th century, but cases are on the rise in the United States and in the UK in the 21st century.
Are vitamin supplements the solution?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends supplements in response to what they describe as an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency. They suggest a multivitamin including 400 units of Vitamin D. Discuss this with your pediatrician to be sure that it is a good choice for your child.
However, this is the amount of Vitamin D your kids receive if they drink milk at meals. If your kids enjoy a glass of milk with each meal and drink water in between meals, they probably take in enough Vitamin D.
Other good sources of Vitamin D include dark green leafy vegetables and fatty fish like tuna and salmon.
Go out and play
While replacing milk with sugary drinks is part of the problem of not getting enough Vitamin D, less time spent outdoors is the main culprit identified by the AAP. Your grandparents probably played outside for much of the day, had outdoor chores, and sat out on the porch in the evenings interacting with friends and family.
Your kids may put on sunscreen first thing every day, have limited outdoor recess time at school, and stay in to play video games or watch TV in the evenings. Don’t skip sunscreen, but look for opportunities to get out into the fresh air.
The Skin Cancer Foundation points out that most of us are not so rigorous with sunscreen that it interferes with the production of Vitamin D. Harvard Medical School agrees, and a new British study confirms it. Some experts suggest giving kids 10 to 15 minutes in the sun before applying sunscreen, but that may not be necessary.
Summer is a great time to make healthy changes for your family. Enjoy time outdoors and nutritious meals — one side effect will be less worry about Vitamin D deficiency.