Millions of kids aren’t getting enough vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, possibly increasing their risk for heart disease, bone problems and other health risks, according to a pair of studies published online in the journal Pediatrics.
According to the first study, nine percent of children and young adults between the ages of 1 and 21 are deficient in vitamin D, while another 61 percent have “insufficient” levels (higher than deficient, but lower than what’s desirable).
In sheer numbers, 7.6 million children have a vitamin D deficiency while 50.8 million have insufficient levels. The study was based on data from the 2001-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
A second study, also published in Pediatrics, found that low levels of vitamin D in adolescents are associated with elevated blood sugar and high blood pressure. The data was based on more than 3,500 adolescents which were also part of the same study.
The researchers also found that low levels of vitamin D deficiency were associated with higher parathyroid hormone levels, a marker of bone health, higher systolic blood pressure, and lower serum calcium and HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which are key risk factors for heart disease.
The body turns sunlight into vitamin D; not surprisingly, researchers found that kids who spent more time indoors watching TV, playing video games and using computers were more likely to have low levels of vitamin D. Drinking milk less than once a week was also associated with lower levels of the vitamin.
Several recent studies have suggested vitamin D may offer a host of other health benefits, including protecting against various cancers such as colon and breast cancer, tuberculosis, and other diseases.
Vitamin D and calcium are the two nutrients recommended to fight the effects of thinning bones from osteoporosis in older women.
Getting The Sunshine Vitamin
Sunshine exposure allows the body to create its own vitamin D. Ten minutes between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on skin without sunscreen should be adequate. While darker skin people may need slightly more exposure. Beyond 15 or 30 minutes, sunscreen should be added.
For adults, supplementation is recommended since few foods, other than salmon, cod liver oil, and deepwater fish have adequate amounts, among other foods. Vitamin D is added to supplement milk and some cereals, but not enough to be sufficient. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that children take vitamin D supplements of 400 IU a day.
Parents should also focus on modifiable risk factors and ensure children are spending less time indoors in front of the television and computer. They should also consume more milk. #