Vitamin D is important to bodies of all ages, but especially to growing ones. Also known as the “sunshine" vitamin, it helps control the amount of calcium we absorb and is therefore important for developing and maintaining healthy bones. But recent studies show that children may not be getting enough of the bone-building vitamin.
Getting enough vitamin D is extremely important to children, who must build up their bone reserves for later in life when bone mass and density begins to fall. Deficiencies of the vitamin early in life could lead to problems down the line, including rickets and other diseases.
"There is epidemiologic evidence that vitamin D not only makes for strong bones, but may play a role in preventing some chronic diseases later in life, including those involving the immune and cardiovascular systems,” explains Frank R. Greer, M.D., FAAP, professor of pediatrics at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
How much is needed?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) responded to recent findings by doubling the amount of vitamin D it recommends for babies and children to 400 International Units (IU) per day, beginning in the first days of life.
“We are doubling the recommended amount of vitamin D children need each day because evidence has shown this could have lifelong health benefits,” says Dr. Greer.
And the need for adequate amounts of vitamin D starts right out of the gate for children.
Infants who are exclusively breastfed should receive supplements of vitamin D to prevent rickets, a bone-softening disease that continues to be reported in the U.S., mostly in children aged two and under.
“Until it is determined how much vitamin D a nursing mother should take, we must ensure that the breastfeeding infant receives an adequate supply of vitamin D through a supplement of 400 IU per day,” said Dr. Carol Wagner, a member of the AAP Section on Breastfeeding Executive Committee and co-author of the AAP clinical report on vitamin D.
Once the child is weaned, she adds, a vitamin D supplement is needed throughout childhood and adolescence as well.
Ensuring they get enough
Common wisdom says that if your child drinks milk and plays outside, he’s getting what he needs — but research shows this isn’t always the case. Here are some tips on making sure your child is getting enough of the essential vitamin.
Breastfed and partially breastfed infants should be supplemented with 400 IU a day of vitamin D in the first few days of life.
Non-breastfed infants, as well as older children, who consume less than 32 ounces per day of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk should receive a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU per day.
Adolescents who do not get 400 IU of vitamin D per day though foods should receive a supplement containing that amount.
Children with increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, such as those taking certain medications and with chronic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, may need higher doses of vitamin D. Consult your pediatrician.