AURORA, Colo. – Millions of children in the United States may suffer from suboptimal levels of Vitamin D, according to a large nationally representative study published in the November issue of Pediatrics.
Adit Ginde, MD, assistant professor at University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and study co-author says the study raises the same level of concern for children as others show for adults with respect to vitamin D deficiencies.
“We know more about Vitamin D in adults than we do in children,” said Ginde. “This study gives the largest and most current data on the Vitamin D status of American children and the results are concerning.”
Dr. Ginde was joined by Jonathan Mansbach, MD, at Children’s Hospital Boston, and Carlos Camargo, MD, at Massachusetts General Hospital. It is the most up-to-date analysis of vitamin D levels in U.S. children. The findings build on growing evidence that Vitamin D levels have fallen below what’s considered healthy, and shows that black and Hispanic children are at particularly high risk.
Both the optimal amount of vitamin D supplementation and the healthy blood level of vitamin D are heavily debated in the medical community. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should have vitamin D levels of at least 50 nmol/L (20 ng/ml). However, other studies in adults suggest that vitamin D levels should be at least 75 nmol/L (30 ng/ml), and possibly 100 nmol/L (40 ng/ml), to lower the risk of heart disease and specific cancers.
The study authors used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to look at vitamin D levels in a nationally representative sample of roughly 5,000 children, between the ages of 1 and 11, from 2001-2006.
Applying the study data to the entire U.S. population, the results suggest that roughly 20 percent of all children fall below the recommended 50 nmol/L. More than two-thirds of all children have levels below 75 nmol/L, including 80 percent of Hispanic children and 92 percent of non-Hispanic black children.
“If 75 nmol/L or higher is eventually demonstrated to be the healthy normal level of vitamin D, then there is much more vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. than people realize,” Mansbach says.
Study authors suggest that all children take vitamin D supplements, because of the generally low levels that they found and the potential health benefits of boosting vitamin D to normal levels.
Vitamin D improves bone health and prevents rickets in children, and recent studies suggest that it also may prevent a host of common childhood illnesses, including respiratory infections, childhood wheezing, and winter-related eczema.
Although sun exposure generates healthy doses of vitamin D, it can also cause skin cancer. Dermatologists and the AAP recommend wearing sunblock, but this actually blocks our skin’s ability to make vitamin D. Furthermore, children with more highly pigmented skin require much more sun exposure than fair-skinned children to obtain healthy levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D can also be obtained from certain foods, like liver and fatty fish, but almost all children in the U.S. don’t consume these foods in high enough quantities to match the vitamin D that could be provided by summer sunshine or vitamin D supplements.
In the study, children taking multi-vitamins that included vitamin D had higher levels overall, but many still had levels that were too low. “We need more data from clinical trials to study the effects of low Vitamin D and the benefits from improving Vitamin D levels in children. This will help us more precisely recommend the amount of Vitamin D that children need,” said Ginde.
This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Faculty at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Medicine work to advance science and improve care. These faculty members include physicians, educators and scientists at University of Colorado Hospital, The Children’s Hospital, Denver Health, National Jewish Health, and the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Degrees offered by the CU Denver School of Medicine include doctor of medicine, doctor of physical therapy, and masters of physician assistant studies. The School is located on the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, one of four campuses in the University of Colorado system. For additional news and information, please visit the CU Denver newsroom online.
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