Vitamin D is used by the human body in a lot of ways, but the most important is that it facilitates the absorption of calcium into the bloodstream. Without it, you end up with thin, brittle bones. The best source of vitamin D, of course, is direct sunlight; our skin produces the vitamin naturally. As our society became more industrialized and kids wound up in classrooms rather than in cornfields, vitamin D was added to milk and other dairy products. It turns out, however, that that may not have been enough.
According to a new study, published in the November issue of Pediatrics, nearly twenty percent of American children do not have adequate vitamin D in their bloodstream. Multivitamins that include vitamin D help, but most children do not take them regularly. “Given the preponderance of data and the safety profile of vitamin D, we believe many U.S. children would likely benefit from more vitamin D,” said Dr. Jonathan Mansbach, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston, who led the research team.
It seems clear that kids need more vitamin D, but how to get it into them remains unclear. Kids these days don’t seem to be drinking enough milk, so some advocate adding vitamin D to other foods as well, such as bread and pasta. Mansbach, however, disagrees. “Food fortification would raise the levels of vitamin D for the U.S. population as a whole, but not everyone in the U.S. is vitamin D-deficient,” he said. “Therefore, on a population basis, it’s probably easier to have people take vitamin D supplements.”
Of course, getting kids to play outside more would help, but even that may not be enough — and you run the risk of sunburn and skin cancer. Despite being hit by cars and falling while rock climbing and generally manhandling my body, I’ve never broken a bone and I attribute that to drinking lots of milk when I was a child and young adult. It sounds like, however, that may not be enough these days. I think I’ll have a chat with the kids’ pediatrician about adding a multivitamin to their diet.