Spring has arrived and with it comes better weather, longer days and more time outdoors. The physical and mental health benefits of time spent outdoors are well-proven for all ages. One of the health benefits of time spent outdoors is boosting our vitamin D levels, which recent research has shown can have widespread positive effects on our children’s well-being and ourselves.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that we absorb through our diet and through our skin due to UVB sun exposure. A recent study showed that approximately 15% of the American pediatric population is deficient or insufficient in vitamin D.
It is important to differentiate between vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets or weakened bones in children and is very rare in the United States thanks to supplementation of the nutrient in some common foods. Vitamin D insufficiency is below average, which may only occur during winter months and respond to lifestyle interventions.
Vitamin D insufficiency is more common and has been linked to a variety of conditions, including type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, mood disorders, and other immune disorders. Vitamin D supplementation has not been shown to have a preventative effect on these disorders, so it is essential that we help our children achieve vitamin D sufficiency through their own natural balance of nutrients through diet. and time spent outdoors.
Giving our children extra vitamin D in supplement form is not the answer unless blood tests show they are chronically low.
Risks of insufficiency
Children at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency include those who are extremely picky eaters and those taking medications that affect absorption, have conditions causing chronic diarrhea or nutrient malabsorption, or are overweight (due to sequestration of vitamin D 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 who live above 40 degrees latitude – Lancaster is just 40 degree parallel – are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency and should be sure to take steps to get this essential nutrient.
A general recommendation is that children between the ages of 1 and 18 should receive 600 to 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. However, since levels can fluctuate so much, depending on diet and sun exposure, it is important to think about dietary habits and sun exposure when considering the risk of deficiency. your child’s vitamin D.
Babies who are exclusively breastfed may become deficient in vitamin D, so your pediatrician may recommend a supplement until the child consumes other foods containing vitamin D. Foods high in vitamin D include fish rich in oil (like salmon and sardines), egg yolk (one egg contains about 44 IU of vitamin D); and organ meats – not exactly foods kids love.
Fortunately, in the United States, some key foods are supplemented with vitamin D, including cow’s milk products; milk alternatives such as almond, oat or hemp milk; and some juices, breads, and cereals (about 100 IU per serving). To earn the “fortified with vitamin D” label, 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 generally not fortified with vitamin D.
Don’t forget the sunscreen
Our skin can synthesize vitamin D through exposure to UVB rays from the sun. Prevention of the harmful effects of sun exposure, including skin cancer, must come before the absorption of vitamin D. The use of sunscreen has not been shown to affect life was correlated with low vitamin D levels, and the use of sunscreen with every sun exposure is recommended by pediatricians and dermatologists.
Research suggests that, even with typical sunscreen use, most individuals still absorb vitamin D while protecting themselves from harmful rays. It takes little exposure to the sun (one study indicates 10 to 15 minutes a day) to synthesize vitamin D in sufficient quantities. So please: always apply sunscreen liberally whenever your child goes out, but make it a priority that you send them outside!
There is still a lot to learn about vitamin D and how our bodies use this nutrient. Vitamin D receptors are found throughout the body, including the brain. And we know that insufficiency has been linked to physical, immune and mental health issues.
Recently, research has even suggested that sufficient levels of vitamin D may help protect people who contract COVID-19; and that people with normal levels were less likely to have severe disease. There are many studies that show that supplementing with vitamin D has no effect, or may even have harmful effects, so it’s essential that we provide our bodies with the raw ingredients to produce and absorb what it needs. .
Parents should pay attention to their child’s diet in relation to vitamin D and make efforts to ensure that he eats enough. And with all those sunny days ahead, let’s roll up our sleeves, slather on some sunscreen and get outside!
Dr. Pia Fenimore of Lancaster Pediatric Associates answers questions about children’s health. You can submit questions to [email protected]