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Children's Health

U.S. Kids May Need More Vitamin D

Researchers Say Millions of Children May Get Too Little Vitamin D
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 26, 2009 -- Millions of children in the U.S. may not get enough vitamin D, and African-American and Hispanic kids are especially at risk, a new study suggests.

Researchers concluded that more than 6 million U.S. children have lower vitamin D levels than the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. And more than two out of three children, or 24 million, have lower levels than may be optimal for good health, the researchers reported this week in Pediatrics. 

"We think kids would probably benefit from getting more vitamin D than most are getting right now," study researcher Jonathan M. Mansbach, MD, of Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, tells WebMD.

The problem is no one is sure how much vitamin D children and adults need and what the optimal blood levels of the vitamin should be.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children get at least 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day, and that blood levels not fall below 50 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L).

But studies in adults suggest that blood levels of 75 nmol/L or even higher may be linked to a reduced risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and other diseases.

In the newly published study, researchers analyzed recent data from a nationally representative sample of 5,000 children between the ages of 1 and 11 to estimate vitamin D levels for the nation's children as a whole.

Based on this analysis, they concluded that:

  •  6.3 million kids, or nearly 20% of all children ages 1-11 in the U.S., fall below the recommended 50 nmol/L blood levels.  
  • Slightly more than two out of three had levels below 75 nmol/L, including four out of five Hispanic children and more than nine out of 10 non-Hispanic, black children. 
  • About 1% of children were clearly deficient in vitamin D (below 25 nmol/L) and at risk for the bone-softening disease rickets.

"If 75 nmol/L really is a more appropriate lowest level of acceptable, there is a lot more vitamin D deficiency in U.S. children that most people realize," Mansbach says.

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