There’s an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in America and it’s not just adults who are affected. Children, too, are increasingly being diagnosed with sub-normal levels of vitamin D – a situation that can have long term health consequences. Childhood vitamin D deficiency is most serious in infants and young children as vitamin D is needed for the formation of healthy bones. What are the risks of vitamin D deficiency in children – and most importantly, is your child affected?
How Common is Childhood Vitamin D Deficiency?
A study in one clinic showed that four out of ten children were deficient enough in vitamin D to have abnormal bone x-rays. At the other end of the spectrum, another study found that almost half of all teenagers tested had sub-normal levels of vitamin D. Obviously, childhood vitamin D deficiency is anything but uncommon.
What Are the Health Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency in Children?
A deficiency of vitamin D in infancy and early childhood causes a bone softening disease called rickets. Rickets leads to serious skeletal deformities including bowed legs and an increased risk of fractures. If uncorrected, permanent bone deformities can occur. Childhood vitamin D deficiency in later childhood may also increase the risk of multiple sclerosis and, possibly, other autoimmune diseases. Adequate vitamin D levels are especially important for children with Type one diabetes since vitamin D stimulates insulin production in childhood diabetics. It’s also important for children who have asthma. Vitamin D deficiency in children increases the risk of high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome and may also increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
Who’s at Risk of Childhood Vitamin D Deficiency?
Infants who are most at risk for vitamin D deficiency are ones who are breast fed and not exposed to sunlight. Premature babies and dark-skinned babies are also at higher risk. In older children and teens, being obese, living in an area without adequate sunlight, not drinking milk, and spending time indoors are risk factors. Darker skinned children have a higher incidence of vitamin D deficiency because their higher levels of melanin block vitamin D absorption.
How to Know if Your Child is Deficient
The best way to find out is to have your child’s vitamin D level checked through a simple blood test. If the level comes back at 20 or less your child needs supplementation to prevent future health problems. Although acceptable levels are currently set at 20, many experts believe that 30 should be the minimum acceptable vitamin D level in children.
The Bottom Line?
Have your child’s vitamin D level tested – particularly if he or she falls into a high risk group. Many children are not getting adequate exposure to sunlight – the best source of natural vitamin D. Drinking milk fortified with vitamin D can help to prevent childhood vitamin D deficiency, but many children aren’t drinking enough. To be safe, get your child tested and supplement if necessary to get vitamin D levels into the acceptable range.