August 3, 2009
BRONX, N.Y.—Seven out of 10 U.S. children have low levels of vitamin D, raising their risk of bone and heart disease, according to a study of more than 6,000 children by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. The striking findings suggest vitamin D deficiency could place millions of children at risk for high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. The study was published in the online version of Pediatrics.
“Several small studies had found a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in specific populations of children, but no one had examined this issue nationwide,” said study leader Michal L. Melamed, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and of epidemiology and population health at Einstein.
The researchers found 9 percent of the study sample, equivalent to 7.6 million children across the U.S., was vitamin D deficient, while another 61 percent, or 50.8 million, was vitamin D insufficient. Low vitamin D levels were especially common in children who were older, female, African-American, Mexican-American, obese, drank milk less than once a week, or spent more than four hours a day watching TV, playing videogames or using computers.
Researchers also found low levels of vitamin D deficiency were associated with higher parathyroid hormone levels, a marker of bone health, higher systolic blood pressure, and lower serum calcium and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, which are key risk factors for heart disease.
“We expected the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency would be high, but the magnitude of the problem nationwide was shocking,” said lead author Juhi Kumar, M.D., M.P.H., a fellow in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, The University Hospital and Academic Medical Center for Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Vitamin D supplementation can help. In the study, children who took vitamin D supplements (400 IU/d) were less likely to be deficient in the vitamin. However, only 4 percent of the study population actually used supplements. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently updated its vitamin D guidelines, now recommends that infants, children and teens should take 400 IU/d in supplement form. As for parents, Dr. Melamed said: “It would good for them to turn off the TV and send their kids outside. Just 15 to 20 minutes a day should be enough. And unless they burn easily, don’t put sunscreen on them until they’ve been out in the sun for 10 minutes, so they get the good stuff but not sun damage.”
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