News of vitamin D deficiency in children are popular in the media these days. Like all concerned parents, I am sure you have paused to pay attention to these news and wondered if you should get a vitamin D supplement for your toddler. The only way you can be sure whether your child has a vitamin D deficiency is by getting a blood test which screens for a particular form of vitamin D called 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Unfortunately, there are no early warning symptoms which can help you determine if you should take a corrective action.
You don’t need to go rushing for a blood test right away though! By paying attention to your child’s general level of outdoor activity and eating patterns, you can get a few clues. Here are 5 questions you can ask to figure out if there might be a need to get a definitive answer on vitamin D deficiency in your specific situation. However, you should not jump to a conclusion too soon just by observing over a few days. Rather you should try to look for a general pattern over a period of time.
Does he get enough time to play in the sun?
Your child’s body (and yours) is programmed to make its own vitamin D simply by being out in the sun. Even 10-15 minutes of play with arms and legs exposed to the sun can be enough. And best of all, the body is able to self-regulate the amount of vitamin D by storing the excess in fat cells.
The problem is that you may not get enough sunshine during the day, especially during the fall and winter months simply because of where you live. Children with darker skins are also at a disadvantage because of the pigment in their skin which absorbs the UVB rays which would otherwise be used to make vitamin D.
The good news is that the effect of sun is cumulative - that is, it adds up over time. Take advantage of every sunny day, even in the middle of winter to let your child play outside. Getting fresh air and physical exercise is good not only from the point of vitamin D, but also for overall physical and emotional health.
Does she drink at least 4 cups of milk every day?
Milk, by far, is the best source of vitamin D because all milk in the US is now fortified with vitamin D. However you need at least 4 cups to reach the recommended level of daily vitamin D (400 IU for children).
The problem could be milk allergies and just a natural dislike of milk. Also 4 cups is a lot, and even adults don’t usually get to drink that much on a daily basis. Try to mix with vitamin D fortified cereals, most of them generally are these days. You can also get vitamin D fortified orange juice, but be sure to watch out for added sugar.
One good way of increasing milk consumption is to add it to a smoothie. This way you can also get your child to eat some fruits!
Does he eat fish as part of a balanced diet?
Eating fish such as salmon is almost like buying insurance as far as vitamin D is concerned. You don’t have to eat it everyday – even once a week can work its magic. One serving of 3.5 oz (about 100g) or the size of a deck of cards can provide as much 2 times or even higher than the daily recommended level of vitamin D. Other fishes like tuna, mackerel and sardines are also good sources of vitamin D. Mercury contamination is a risk but should not be too much of a concern if you eat them occasionally as part of a varied diet.
The problem again could be allergies. Also your child may not like the taste or smell of fish. Trying new recipes and offering in small portions in combination with some of his other favorites can help you to build a taste for fish.
Does she seem overweight for her age?
Childhood obesity is on the rise and if your child is overweight or obese, you have a challenge in terms of vitamin D as well. That is because the body is not able to pull the vitamin D stored in the fat cells when needed.
Keep a close eye on her Body Mass Index by looking at the age specific growth charts. They are available on the CDC website or you can ask your pediatrician. Again, it is important to look at the trend and not a single point on these charts. If you see a trend creeping over the 85th percentile, you need to take action right away and improve the overall nutrition and eating habits of your child. Unless there is an underlying medical condition, nutrition and lifestyle changes can show good results.
Does he have special medical conditions?
In the most unfortunate situation, your child may have a medical condition such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease or cystic fibrosis. These diseases cause poor absorption. Since vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, its availability is severely reduced in people suffering from these problems.
If this is the case, you are probably already talking to your pediatrician. Discuss the matter of vitamin D deficiency if you have not already done so.
After considering your specific situation, you can consult with your pediatrician about supplements. While I am not a fan of jumping on the vitamin supplements bandwagon, I think it is important to be informed about them. I plan to write about vitamin D supplements in future once I have had a chance to do some research on them.
What do you think? Are you concerned about your child’s vitamin D levels? Are you considering supplements? I would love to hear your comments.
Photo Source: Leo Reynolds on Flickr