Vitamin D Deficiency In Kids

Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, right, arrives with director Pedro Almodovar for the U.K. premiere of "Broken Embraces" in London, Thursday, July 30, 2009. The film, which launches this year's open air season at Somerset House, is Almodovar's first film since his 2006 hit "Volver" and stars Academy Award-winner Cruz.
AP Photo/Joel Ryan
Vitamin D is essential for normal growth and development. But a recent study in Boston found vitamin D deficiency in almost a quarter of adolescents tested during routine checkups who were otherwise completely healthy. The Early Show medical correspondent Emily Senay reports.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is important for the development of strong bones.

Children with vitamin D deficiency are at greater risk for stunted growth and weakened bones that are prone to fractures and osteoporosis later in life. As a matter of fact, severe and prolonged vitamin D deficiency is the cause of rickets, a bone-weakening disease we normally associate with developing countries where poor nutrition is common.

There is also evidence that chronic vitamin D deficiency may be linked with some cancers, diabetes and high blood pressure.

So where do we get vitamin D?

Vitamin D is contained in foods like eggs and some fish, and a lot of milk is fortified with vitamin D. Exposure to sunlight (about 10 minutes a day)also forms vitamin D. The latest research shows that some teens may be at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency because they don't get enough milk on a daily basis or enough sunlight in winter.

The problem was more prevalent in African-American teenagers and more common during the winter months. Kids who live in northern latitudes with less intense winter sunlight are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, as are dark-skinned ethnic groups whose pigmented skin doesn't absorb sunlight as easily.

Children suffering from vitamin D deficiency often don't have symptoms until it starts to cause problems, but your doctor can test for vitamin D levels if a problem is suspected. If the deficiency is detected early enough before bones stop growing, there's enough time to prevent permanent damage.

Vitamin D Recommendations

Senay says the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends multivitamin supplements containing 200 international units of vitamin D per day for babies who are breast-fed only and for at-risk children and adolescents. "At risk" means those who don't drink at least 17 ounces daily of fortified milk or who don't get regular sunlight exposure.

Most kids who eat a well-balanced diet, drink milk and get a modest amount of sunlight from outdoor activity will not have a problem with vitamin D deficiency. This is really another wake-up call for kids and teens with a couch-potato lifestyle. The high-risk individuals here are the sedentary kids who stay indoors and watch a lot of TV and thrive on junk food.