Ask the Pediatrician: Make sure your children get enough vitamin D [column] | Health

Spring has sprung and with it better weather, longer days and more time outside. The physical and mental health benefits of time outside are well-proven for all ages. One health benefit of being outdoors is an increase in our vitamin D levels, which, according to recent research, can have widespread positive effects on the well-being of our children and ourselves.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that we absorb through our diet and through our skin through exposure to UVB sunlight. A recent study found that approximately 15% of the U.S. pediatric population is deficient or deficient in vitamin D.

It is important to distinguish between vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets or weakened bones in children and is very uncommon in the United States thanks to the nutrient supplementation in some common foods. Vitamin D deficiency is lower than average, which can only occur in the winter months and responds to lifestyle interventions.

Vitamin D insufficiency is more common and has been linked to several conditions, including type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, mood disorders and other immune disorders. Vitamin D supplementation has not been shown to have a preventive effect on these conditions, so it is critical that we help our children achieve adequate vitamin D through their own natural balance of nutrients through diet and outdoor time.

Giving our children extra vitamin D in the form of a supplement is not the solution unless blood tests show they are chronically low.

Certain key foods are supplemented with vitamin D in the United States, including cow’s milk products. Other foods rich in the vitamin include oil-rich fish, egg yolks, and organ meats.


Risks for insufficiency

Children at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency include those who are extremely picky eaters and those who are taking medications that affect absorption, have conditions that cause chronic diarrhea or nutrient malabsorption, or are overweight (due to vitamin D stores). in fat).

Children who fall into these categories should consult their pediatrician about the need for a blood test to determine vitamin D levels. Dark-skinned people and those living above latitude 40 degrees north – Lancaster sits exactly on the 40 degrees parallel – are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency and should be sure to take steps to get this vital nutrient .

A general recommendation is that children ages 1 to 18 should get 600 to 800 International Units (IU) of vitamin D daily. However, because levels can fluctuate so widely depending on diet and sun exposure, it’s important to consider eating habits and sunlight exposure when considering your child’s risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Exclusively breastfed babies may develop a vitamin D deficiency, so your pediatrician may recommend a supplement until the child consumes other vitamin D-containing foods. Vitamin D-rich foods include oil-rich fish (such as salmon and sardines), egg yolks (one egg contains about 44 IU of vitamin D); and organ meats — not exactly foods that kids love.

Fortunately, in the United States, certain important foods are supplemented with vitamin D, including cow’s milk products; milk substitutes such as almond, oat or hemp milk; and some juices, breads, and cereals (about 100 IU per serving). To earn the label “vitamin D-fortified,” milk must contain between 100 and 150 IU of vitamin D in each 8-ounce glass. Other dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and ice cream are not typically fortified with vitamin D.

Don’t forget sunscreen

Our skin can synthesize vitamin D by exposure to UVB radiation from sunlight. Preventing harmful effects of sun exposure, including skin cancer, should be prioritized over vitamin D absorption. Sunscreen use in everyday life has not been shown to correlate with low vitamin D levels, and sunscreen use any sun exposure is recommended by both pediatricians and dermatologists.

Research suggests that, even with normal sunscreen use, most people still absorb some vitamin D while protecting themselves from harmful rays. It doesn’t take a lot of sun exposure (one study indicates 10 to 15 minutes a day) to synthesize vitamin D in adequate amounts. So please: Still apply liberally to your child when your child goes outside, but make it a priority to send them outside!

There is still a lot to learn about vitamin D and the way our bodies use this nutrient. Vitamin D receptors are found all over the body, including the brain. And we know that insufficiency has been linked to physical, immune and mental health problems.

Recently, research has even suggested that adequate levels of vitamin D may help to be protective in people who contract COVID-19; and that people with normal levels were less likely to have serious illness. There are many studies showing that extra vitamin D has no effect, or may even have harmful effects, so it is essential that we provide our bodies with the raw materials to produce and absorb what it needs.

Parents should pay attention to their child’s diet regarding vitamin D and make an effort to ensure that he or she is eating enough. And with all these sunny days approaching, let’s all roll up our sleeves, slather on the sunscreen, and get outside!

dr. Pia Fenimore, of Lancaster Pediatric Associates, answers questions about children’s health. You can ask questions at

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