Many American kids deficient in vitamin D

June 23, 2004 in Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements

Many American kids deficient in vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency may be a common but unrecognized problem among U.S. adolescents, new study findings from Boston suggest.

Researchers found that among 11- to 18-year-olds living in Boston, nearly 25% were deficient in vitamin D, a nutrient that aids in calcium absorption and is vital for healthy bone development. The problem occurred at a much higher rate than the researchers expected.

The findings were unexpected because the problem is preventable with an adequate diet and time outdoors. The body naturally synthesizes vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun, and milk and certain other foods, including many breakfast cereals, are fortified with the vitamin.

But U.S. children increasingly fill up on soft drinks at the expense of milk, and spend more time in front of the TV or computer than outdoors. The study found that soft drink, juice and iced tea intake were related to a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. On the other hand, adolescents who said they drank milk and ate cereal were less likely to be low on the vitamin.

For the study, the researchers analyzed blood samples from 307 healthy adolescents who had routine physical exams between 2001 and 2003. They found that 24% of the children were vitamin D deficient, and nearly 5% were severely deficient.

African-American adolescents had the highest prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, with 36% affected. Sunlight, the researchers note, is less efficient at triggering vitamin D synthesis in darker skin.

The team did find lower rates of vitamin D deficiency in the summer and fall, but even during these sun-filled months, 12 to 17% of adolescents were low on the vitamin.

To guard against the problem, children and teens should get regular outdoor activity and consume vitamin D-fortified foods. For children who turn their noses up at milk, there are some juices available (in the U.S.) that contain added vitamin D. Multivitamins are also a good option, particularly for kids whose diets may be lacking in a number of nutrients.

The findings also pose the question of whether children and teens should be routinely screened for vitamin D deficiency. As it stands, deficiency may be suspected in children with a history of bone fractures, but most kids will never be screened for vitamin D status.

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