Why do kids need vitamin D?
Dr. Angela Houchin, board-certified pediatrician in Kentucky, says that vitamin D is crucial for children's bone development because calcium is not properly absorbed by the body without it.
How can kids get the appropriate amount of vitamin D?
According to Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician for the American Academy of Pediatrics, California Chapter 3 a little sunshine (10 to 15 minutes of exposure just a few times per week) produces enough vitamin D. She says, "The UVB rays work to get the skin to produce the important nutrient. However, we also know that sun can cause a lot of health problems too, most notably skin cancer. For this reason, we recommend that all kids where sunscreen when exposed to the sun and avoid being out in the sun from the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest." She notes that sunscreen actually blocks the body's ability to produce vitamin D in response to the sun so time spent in the sun covered with sunscreen doesn't count.
However, Dr. Sara Lappe, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children's says that sun is not the only way kids should — and can — get their vitamin D. She says, "In the northern half of our country the sun is not strong enough in the fall to spring months to provide adequate vitamin D. There have even been studies of surfers in Hawaii showing low levels of vitamin D — that population is getting plenty of sun." She notes that a better way to ensure your kids are getting an adequate intake of vitamin D is to eat foods fortified with vitamin D including milk or yogurt or fish such as salmon. She adds, "Another option is vitamin D supplements which come in liquid, chewable and tablet form."
How does lack of vitamin D effect kids?
According to Dr. Houchin in severe cases of vitamin D deficiency, children can develop a bone disorder called rickets. She adds, "The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all newborn babies receive vitamin D supplementation. Although blood test screening for vitamin D deficiency is not considered mandatory for all children, some pediatricians are incorporating vitamin D screening into their well-child checkups as vitamin D deficiency is becoming more and more common."
Dr. Muth says that in addition to rickets, which is most apparent by bowing of the legs and easily broken bones, vitamin D deficiency "typically shows up within the first two years of life. Breastfed babies who are not receiving a vitamin D supplement are at greatest risk as the breastmilk does not contain very much vitamin D (versus formula which is fortified with nutrients, including vitamin D)."
In addition to physical concerns, a lack of vitamin D can have devastating mental effects as well, according to Dr. Timothy Houchin, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist and founder of 360 Mental Health Services. He says, "Vitamin D deficiency is strongly linked to depressive disorders in adults, children and adolescents. I generally recommend that a child psychiatrist work with the child’s pediatrician to determine whether over-the-counter or prescription strength vitamin D supplementation should be used and for how long. Additionally, vitamin D supplementation in clinically depressed children should not be considered a substitute for psychotherapy, medication or other accepted treatment practices."
If you have concerns about your child's vitamin D intake, ask your pediatrician for a blood screening to determine whether he or she has a deficiency.