Doubling up on Vitamin D

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Daily supplement encouraged for those under eighteen.

One way to get vitamin D is from sunshine. But increased use of sunscreen means that children will need to rely on more supplements. Photo: iStock

Most Americans — except those who gamely gulp down a teaspoon of cod liver oil daily — don’t get enough vitamin D, and physicians are trying to tackle the problem by increasing the recommended intake for children.

New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, co-authored by Frank Greer, a UW-Madison professor of pediatrics, double the recommended amount of vitamin D for children under eighteen from 200 to 400 units per day.

The academy is recommending more vitamin D for children just as reports show an increase in rickets — an extreme deficiency — especially among young children of lower-income mothers who breastfeed and don’t take vitamin supplements. And some studies have linked vitamin D to a reduced risk for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Though Greer emphasizes there’s not conclusive evidence to support that, he expects more companies will fortify products ranging from yogurt to animal crackers with vitamin D.

Greer says the best way to ensure children get enough vitamin D is through a daily supplement, which comes in liquid form for infants. Otherwise, working it into a child’s diet is a challenge for most parents; it’s possible only if a child drinks thirty-two ounces or more of milk each day or has a diet that includes fatty fish like salmon.

Sunshine is another way to get vitamin D naturally. But sunscreen use blocks ultraviolet rays, and “from November to March in most parts of North America,” Greer notes, “you could stay out all day with no clothes on and not make any vitamin D.”

Published in the Spring 2009 issue

Tags: Faculty, Health and medicine, Research

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