Vitamin D deficiency in kids has been a concern in the U.S. in recent years. Vitamin D helps bones absorb calcium and phosphorous, leading to stronger bones, so it’s very important for health. Vitamin D comes from food sources like fatty fish and eggs, and it can be produced naturally in the body from sun exposure.
Vitamin D deficiency was a serious problem a century ago when kids might spend their days working in a factory. Rickets, a debilitating disease caused by Vitamin D deficiency, was common among children in the 19th century and the early 20th century. One solution to the problem was fortified foods: vitamin D was added to milk, orange juice, and cereals in order to increase the amount of Vitamin D kids received.
Getting children out of factories, adding recess to the school day so kids had time for healthy play in the sun, and the end of tenement living solved the public health issue of Vitamin D deficiency in the U.S.
Now, some experts worry that Vitamin D deficiency might be back. Some of the possible causes:
- Children spend less time outdoors playing in the sunshine and more time indoors playing computer games.
- Parents feel less free to send kids out to play because of safety concerns. Latchkey kids may be alone at home until dark.
- Parents may try to avoid sending kids into the sun, since we have more awareness of potential sun damage.
- Recess time has been cut in many schools as part of the No Child Left Behind initiative.
- General lack of exercise can also affect bone health, and the same factors that affect Vitamin D from the sun can also affect the amount of exercise kids get.
- Some families avoid dairy products, which can be an important source of Vitamin D.
- Eggs may also be on the avoidance list, because of cholesterol or worries about allergies.
- People also eat less fish. The average American now eats 14 lbs per year of fish, compared with 82 lbs of chicken, and the fish eaten may not be the kind that is rich in Vitamin D.
In winter, the problem can be made worse — it’s cold, so kids spend even less time outdoors.
What’s the solution?
Get some sunshine! A daily walk is enough. That will also provide increased exercise and some fun family time. Hard to fit in on workdays? Plan for a longer time in the park or on the walking trail over the weekend.
Look for fortified foods in the grocery store. Maybe it’s time to experiment with some Vitamin D rich foods, too. Tuna, salmon, and sardines are good sources.
Talk with your health care provider if you’re not sure whether your child is getting enough Vitamin D. Too much Vitamin D can be bad for health, too, so you should discuss your concerns with a doctor before you think about supplements.