Health Update: Babies and Kids Need More Vitamin D

The American Academy of Pediatrics says children need twice as much vitamin D as previously recommended. Is your child getting enough?

Children aren't getting enough vitamin D, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which says children need double the previously recommended amount. The group is advising that all children -- from newborns to teens -- get 400 international units (IU), the equivalent of drinking four 8-ounce glasses of fortified milk every day.

Because it's unlikely that children will get that much vitamin D from diet alone, the AAP says many kids will need to take supplements.

The new recommendation, published in the journal Pediatrics, comes in response to increasing evidence that vitamin D may help prevent serious diseases like diabetes and cancer, as well as build strong and healthy bones.

    How We Get Vitamin D

    Since our bodies can't produce vitamin D on its own, we need to get it from our diet or from exposure to direct sunlight, which triggers the body to make it. But due to the risk of skin cancer, the AAP now says that vitamin D supplements during infancy, childhood, and adolescence are necessary. "There is no safe amount of sun exposure," says Jennifer Shu, MD, Parents advisor and editor or American Academy of Pediatrics' Baby & Child Health. "But now we have safe options for getting vitamin D through supplements and fortified foods -- and these don't cause cancer."

    Children can get vitamin D through their diet from foods like oily fish (salmon, mackerel, and tuna) and fortified milk or cereal, but getting enough from diet alone is tough for most kids, says Dr. Shu. "We may start to see more vitamin D-fortified foods on the market in response to this new recommendation, but until then, ask your pediatrician about what kind of supplement your child may need."

      What to Know About Supplements

      Vitamin D is available in liquid drops for babies and chewables or capsules for older children. If your child already takes a multivitamin, check the label and ask your pediatrician whether an additional supplement is needed.

        Risks of Vitamin D Deficiency

        When children don't get enough vitamin D, they're at an increased risk for developing rickets, a childhood bone disease that can cause growth problems, fractures, and other problems, including developing osteoporosis later in life. Cases of this disease -- more common centuries ago -- continue to occur, experts say, because as children are getting less and less sun exposure (a good thing, skin cancer-wise), they're not also upping their vitamin D intake through diet or supplements.

          What to Do, Age by Age

            Babies & Toddlers

            Kids this age need 400 IU of vitamin D every day. Talk to your pediatrician about specifics.

              • Breastfed babies should start a liquid vitamin D supplement within the first few days of life.
              • Babies who receive a combination of breast milk and formula will also need a supplement.
              • Formula-fed babies don't need supplements because baby formula sold in the U.S. contains the recommended daily amount of vitamin D. When your baby moves from formula to solids and regular milk, she should start a liquid supplement.

                Preschoolers & Up

                Kids this age need 400 IU of vitamin D every day. Ask your pediatrician whether your child needs a supplement or if she's getting enough vitamin D from her diet. If your kid's not a big fan of milk straight-up, here are some other ideas to boost her intake:

                  • Serve fortified cereal with milk for breakfast.
                  • Sweeten the deal: Drizzle some chocolate syrup in a glass of milk for dessert.
                  • Swap milk for water in soups, oatmeal, and other recipes.
                  • Whip up milk-and-fruit smoothies as a regular afternoon snack.
                  • Offer fortified yogurt as part of meals; if your kid gets sick of it, try freezing fun fruity flavors in ice-pop trays.
                  • Get your kid hooked on salmon -- a 3.5 ounce serving contains nearly all the vitamin D kids need every day

                    Sources: AAP's report on the Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Jennifer Shu, MD, Parents advisor and editor of AAP's Baby & Child Health.

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