August 3, 2009
Wall Street Journal
By Jacob Goldstein
The vitamin D drumbeat continues today, with a pair of studies that suggest millions of kids aren’t getting enough vitamin D, and that low levels are associated with health risks in adolescents.
Nine percent of children and young adults between the ages of 1 and 21 are deficient in vitamin D, and another 61% have “insufficient” levels (higher than deficient, but lower than what’s desirable), according to a study published online today by the journal Pediatrics. The study was based on data from more than 6,000 kids tested as part of a federally funded health survey conducted between 2001 and 2004.
A second study found that low levels of vitamin D in adolescents are associated with high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar. That study, also published in Pediatrics, looked at data from more than 3,500 adolescents collected as part of the same federal survey.
The body turns sunlight into vitamin D; not surprisingly, the researchers found that kids who spent more than four hours a day watching television, playing video games and using computers were more likely to have low levels of vitamin D. Milk is often fortified with vitamin D, and drinking milk less than once a week was also associated with lower levels of the vitamin.
“This appears to be another result of our unhealthy lifestyles, including a sedentary society that doesn’t go out in the sun much,” one of the authors of the study told the Washington Post.
Researchers have been paying more attention to vitamin D lately, noting associations between low levels of the vitamin and risks of various health problems. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics doubled its recommended daily dose for kids.
And, as we noted last year, some docs are even suggesting going out in the sun for a few minutes without sunscreen now and again, to allow the body to make more vitamin D. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine called this “sensible sun exposure” — enough to get some vitamin D, but no so much that you get a sunburn or raise your risk of skin cancer. How much this is will depend on several factors, including latitude and season.