Vitamin D Deficiency in Children: Risks and Ways to Help

Vitamin D is vital to a child's mental and physical development. Surprisingly, vitamin D deficiency is more common than people think. It is especially prevalent in Canada and the northern United States. The number of children affected by this dilemma continues to grow as more people are worried about sun exposure and how it relates to skin cancer. There are also more activities moving indoors to get away from outdoor conditions. Symptoms of the deficiency include muscle weakness, motor development delays, bone fractures, rickets and aches and pains.

What Will Happen If Your Kid Is Vitamin D Deficient?

There are several disorders associated with vitamin D deficiency in children, some of which are quite severe.

  • Children can suffer from a condition called rickets, which produces fragile bones and can result in deformations in the skeletal system.
  • Teens and adults can develop a disorder called osteomalacia, which results in soft bones.
  • Young children with low levels of vitamin D can develop low levels of calcium. This can result in increased muscle spasms and seizures. Often, in these cases, when the levels of vitamin D and calcium return to normal, the symptoms will cease.
  • Even infants can be affected by vitamin D deficiency. If a baby is breast-feeding and there is not proper amounts of vitamin D in the mother’s milk or through supplementation, it can result in the baby developing of rickets. This seems to affect children with darker skin more often.

Children with cystic fibrosis and Crohn’s disease often have low vitamin D levels due to their condition, so their vitamin levels need to be monitored. If a child has a condition that affects their dietary fat absorption, like celiac disease or liver disease, he may need to take a vitamin D supplement. Luckily, in the United States, many foods like milk and cereal are fortified with vital vitamins and nutrients. This significantly helps reduce the occurrence of disorders like rickets and osteomalacia by decreasing the number of cases of vitamin D deficiency in children.

How Much Vitamin D Does Your Kid Need?

It is recommended that infants get a minimum of 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D daily. Children 1 years old through their teens should get a minimum daily amount of 600 IU.

Infants

Infants may need a vitamin D supplement in liquid form of 400 IU per day if they are only breastfed. For infants that are breastfed and given formula, the dosage may differ. It is important to check with your pediatrician to see what is right for your child.

Baby formulas produced and sold in the U.S. are fortified with a minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D in each liter. This means infants strictly on formula should get their daily requirements of the nutrient. If for some reason your child does not drink enough formula throughout the day, you can speak to your pediatrician about what is best.

When an infant is no longer breast-feeding, he needs to consume enough formula or supplements to ensure the correct daily dosage of vitamin D for his age.

Children and Teens

Oftentimes, children and teenagers do not get the recommended daily dose of 600 IU. This can be caused by limited sun exposure if they are living in northern regions or have darker skin. Vitamin D deficiency in children and teens is very common, much to the concern of many health professionals.

Fortified milk is available, but a child or teen would have to drink about 32 ounces per day to get 400 IU. Because they tend to drink much less than this, they should take a vitamin D supplement or a multivitamin, but not both since the multivitamin already has enough vitamin D in it.

Don't let a teenager fool you into thinking they don’t need vitamin D. Especially as they get older and think they are as tall as they are going to get. Sufficient amounts of vitamin D help maintain healthy bones and weight, and still play a vital part in overall health.

Also, some children may need a higher dose of 600 IU per day if they have specific disorders or live in an area that dictates this consideration. Your pediatrician will be able to advise you on this.

Best Sources of Vitamin D for Your Kids

Your body produces vitamin D when your skin absorbs sunlight. This triggers the production of the "sunshine vitamin," but when sun rays are blocked by sunscreen or clothes, the process is hindered. Geographic areas, cloudy locations, smoggy cities and having darker skin can also affect absorption of sunlight.

There are not exact determinations on how much sunlight children need to produce the vitamin D they need. However, studies suggest between 5 minutes to half an hour of sunlight twice a week between the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

But, of course, other studies have shown that sun exposure of UV radiation is a major factor in the development of skin cancer. So ironically, when trying to boost your vitamin D production by soaking in the sun, you may increase your chances of developing this deadly disease. Because of this, a vitamin D supplement is often the recommend course to get the amount you and your kids need, which can greatly assist in the prevention of vitamin D deficiency in children.

You can also try to get vitamin D through your diet. Foods rich in the nutrient include:

  • 4-ounce cup of fortified orange juice – 50 IU
  • 1 ounce of tuna, canned, drained and oil packed – 65 IU
  • 4 ounce cup of fortified cereal – 20 IU
  • 4-ounce cup of fortified whole, skim or low fat milk – 50 IU
  • 1 ounce of salmon – 100 IU
  • 1 ounce of mackerel – 12 IU
  • 1 slice of fortified cheese, American – 40 IU
  • 1 ounce fortified cheese, Swiss – 12 IU
  • 1 teaspoon of fortified margarine – 20 IU
  • 1 large egg yolk – 20 IU
  • 6 ounce serving of fortified yogurt – 80 IU

The actual amount of vitamin D in each serving of these products will vary based on the brand and fortification of the food. Children can eat different serving sizes based on their age, eating habits and so forth, so you may have to estimate the amount of vitamin D consumed.

 
 
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