Children and vitamin D deficiency

Are children getting enough of the “sunshine vitamin?”

As the winter days get shorter and the nights grow longer, children spend less and less time in the natural sunlight which helps the body produce vitamin D. Recent research has found that many children and adolescents are vitamin D deficient or insufficient.

Michigan State University Extension says that there has been increased interest in vitamin D recently and its role in the prevention of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and various types of cancer. Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health. It facilitates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and helps in the deposition of these minerals in bones and teeth, which makes them stronger and healthier. Vitamin D also plays a role in building the immune system and aids in the regulation of cell growth.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that occurs in animal products and irradiated plant products. Vitamin D is also produced when ultraviolet rays from the sun shine on the skin and triggers vitamin D metabolism. Unfortunately, most parts of Michigan do not receive enough sunshine, even during the warmer months of the year for people to obtain enough exposure to meet vitamin D needs. Also the use of sunscreen blocks the production of vitamin D through the skin, and use is on the rise due to the risk of skin cancer from sun exposure.

Consumption of foods high in vitamin D should be encouraged. Some of these foods include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, fortified milk products and other fortified foods such as breakfast cereal. Unfortunately it is difficult to obtain sufficient levels of vitamin D from natural food sources alone. Children and adolescents who have limited sun exposure, darker skin tones, excess body fat and are living in areas of higher altitudes are at higher risk for deficiency and should consider supplementation. For more information see the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet, Vitamin D.

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