Vitamin D is vital for your little one’s growing body and development – but many children in the UK have low levels. Here’s why it’s important your child gets enough … and what you can do to help.
Growing healthy bones
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones – which is important for all of us, but particularly the growing bodies of children. It helps little bodies absorb calcium and phosphorus from food, and these minerals help keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy – essential stuff for active, energetic kids.
A lack of vitamin D in children can cause bones to become soft, weak and deformed – a condition called rickets. The bow legs and curved spines of children with rickets was sadly common in Victorian workhouses, but although it’s still rare, it’s now seeing an increase in numbers.
Levels are often low
Government guidance changed earlier this year, and it’s now recommended that babies from birth to one year old need 8.5 to 10 micro-grams of vitamin D a day.
It’s particularly important for kids, as 90% of peak bone mass is determined by the time they’re 18. This means the healthier children can make their bones when they’re young, the less likely they’ll be to become fragile in later life.
You can get vitamin D in different ways. Often called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, the main source of vitamin D for most of us is from sunlight. Your body makes vitamin D under the skin in reaction to the sun shining on it.
It’s also found naturally in some foods, including oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines), egg yolks, liver and red meat.
In addition, some foods have vitamin D added to them, such as follow-on milk, Petits Filous Big Pots, Little Pots, Pouches and Magic Squares, and some breakfast cereals.
The Department of Health now recommends everyone over the age of one should consider taking a daily 10 micro-gram supplement of vitamin D, especially during autumn and winter.
The sun isn’t shining!
From around late March to the end of September in the UK, most of us should be able to get the vitamin D we need from being outdoors and exposing arms or legs to the sun for short periods – and from eating a healthy diet.
However, there are a number of reasons why many of us, especially young children, are not getting enough. At this time of year, during autumn and winter months, the sun is generally not strong enough for your child’s skin to make vitamin D.
During summer months, every mum knows it’s very important to protect delicate young skin with hats, sunscreen and long-sleeved clothes, but this also prevents vitamin D production. As kids get older, the lure of screen time can also mean they spend more time indoors than playing outside and topping up their vitamin levels.
Skin color also affects how much vitamin D can be made in summer months – darker skins need a longer amount of time in the sun for the reaction to take place, than those with fair skin.