Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

It’s winter time in Western Pennsylvania. Translation: cloudy and gray.  If you’re a veteran of the Pittsburgh area, you know the sun will reappear in a few short months. If you are a Pittsburgh rookie, you might be wondering if you’ll ever again feel the warmth of sun’s rays.

What I’m trying to say is, because we aren’t exposed to much sunshine this time of year, our bodies (and our children’s) aren’t making much of the so-called sunshine vitamin, otherwise known as Vitamin D.  In fact, studies over the past couple of years have indicated that most children may not be getting enough of this essential bone-building and chronic disease-fighting nutrient. An article published in the June 2008 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that 40 percent of the children in the study had inadequate levels of vitamin D.

It’s not just a deficiency of sunshine in the winter that contributes, but also sunscreen use in the summer time, hats, long sleeves and other lifestyle changes that can leave us lacking.

How Much Vitamin D Does My Child Need?

Recommendations differ somewhat among science-based organizations, but generally fall in the range of 400–800 IU (International Units) per day for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 400 IU of vitamin D per day, beginning in the first days of life. The Institute of Medicine recommends 400 IU per day for children younger than 1 year, and 600 IU per day for children at least 1 year of age.

Food Sources of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is found naturally in some foods, but not many. These include, egg yolks (20 IU/yolk), fatty fish (200–360 IU/serving), cod liver oil (1,300 IU/tablespoon) and beef liver (15 IU/serving). Some foods are fortified with vitamin D, with milk being the most common at 100 IUs per one-cup serving. Some cereals, juices, yogurts, and margarines may also be fortified with D. 

Does My Child Need a Supplement?

A few months ago, I wrote about whether or not children should take a multivitamin supplement. In a nutshell, the current science regarding the benefits of taking a multivitamin is weak; for kids, there’s little to no data on the topic. Fact is, children can get the nutrients they need by eating a healthy diet.

And give it up to fortified foods, like milks, cereals, breads and juices! Even kids with not-so-great diets can generally meet their nutrient needs. BUT, Vitamin D is an exception.

  • The AAP suggests that supplementation is important, since most children are not able to meet their needs through diet alone. Here are the specifics:
  • Breastfed and partially breastfed infants should receive a supplement of 400 IU per day (via liquid drop)
  • Non-breastfed infants and children who consume less than 32 ounces (4, 8-ounces glasses) of fortified milk or formula per day should receive a supplement of 400 IU per day
  • Adolescents who do not meet their needs from food (and many do not) should take a 400 IU supplement
  • As always, keep supplements and medications out of children’s reach.

There you have it. Sunshine doesn’t come in a bottle, but Vitamin D does. Punxatawney Phil pulled through for us, but it’s still a long way to more regular sunshine…

Anne Marie Kuchera, our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultant, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.