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.