We have long been told of the importance of a healthy and complete diet in a child’s life. Now, a collection of new papers published in the National Library of Medicine (NIH) highlights how important the role of certain foods is. And it seems like most kids are missing a significant piece of the puzzle! Luckily, one diet and parenting expert says getting them back on track might be easier than we think.
Children Don’t Get Enough Vitamin D
According to information released by the NIH, 50% of children aged 1 to 5 and 70% of children aged 6 to 11 are vitamin D deficient.1
Vitamin D plays a vital role in the development and maintenance of bone health.3 It’s nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin,” thanks to the way the body reacts to vitamin D3 (AKA: cholecalciferol) during sun exposure.1.4
In 2020, the Endocrine Society and several other organizations developed guidelines on vitamin D requirements for infants and children. According to their findings, children younger than 1 year need 400-1,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per day, and those aged 1-18 need 600-1,000 IU.1.2
To put that into perspective, you can get the same amount from 15-30 minutes of direct sun exposure.2 But as busy parents know, sometimes even taking that daily walk around the block can be a challenge, so you may need to turn to other alternatives.
There are High Levels of Vitamin D in Various Foods
There are many foods naturally rich in vitamin D. Oily fish such as salmon, trout and sardines are among them.5 But chances are, not many of these foods are on your child’s favorite list, especially younger children who may prefer chicken nuggets to a side of salmon.
Some foods can be fortified with vitamin D (or add vitamin D during processing). This list includes some snacks that the little ones ask for from time to time, such as milk (both plant and dairy), orange juice, yogurt and even some cereals.1
Even with all those snack favorites on the list, this age group is deficient in their daily vitamin D intake.1 And they are not alone.
Children also Need More Vitamin D
Many infants consume most of their nutritional content from breast milk or formula. So, reaching those daily vitamin D numbers is harder for them. Breastfed babies face an additional barrier as, unlike formula, breast milk can easily be enriched with the addition of needed vitamin D.6
“Many health organizations recommend liquid supplements for infants who consume breast milk, as human milk alone doesn’t provide enough vitamin D,” writes Jennifer Anderson, registered dietitian and founder of Kids Eat in Color, per CNBC.
“Vitamin D drops can be bought over the counter and given to an infant to help them meet the daily requirement of 400 IU.”
Many new parents are counseled about this during pregnancy, from the hospital after delivery, or once they take their baby to the pediatrician. However, they may not realize how vital the “sunshine vitamin” can be to their child’s health and well-being.
A vitamin D Deficiency can Have Long-Lasting Effects
There are many ways a vitamin D deficiency can present itself in children. The body’s initial response can be fatigue, pain, and a compromised immune system.6
Children are likely to have more serious complications when this deficiency lasts a long time. These can include rickets, bone pain, joint deformities, and changes in growth patterns that can lead to shorter stature.6
This all may sound scary, but that doesn’t mean you have to rush out and load up on vitamin D supplements. Jennifer says a conversation with your pediatrician can help determine if your child is meeting her daily nutritional needs. From there, the two of you can decide what changes to make to your child’s diet, including which supplements will help him through the day.
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