What’s the scoop on vitamin D and preschoolers?
Vitamin D has been getting media attention lately, with reports about one third of the NZ population have low levels of vitamin D.
What does vitamin D do?
Vitamin D helps the calcium from our food be absorbed into our bones. Not enough vitamin D means weaker bones, in severe cases leading to rickets in young children. The number of cases of rickets (weakened and deformed bones) seen by New Zealand doctors is increasing.
Good levels of vitamin D in childhood will decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis in later life, and may help prevent diseases such as diabetes and some cancers. Vitamin D is an essential part of the immune system, and researchers think it may be linked to common childhood diseases such as eczema, food allergy and wheezing.
Where do we get vitamin D from?
Sunshine is absorbed by our skin and our body produces vitamin D from the UVB rays. Foods such as oily fish, eggs, meat and milk all contain vitamin D. However, they don’t contain enough to meet our daily requirements, making it essential to have the correct amount of sunlight.
What affects our children’s vitamin D levels?
There are many factors including the common usage of sunscreen, hats and covering clothing, childcare centres and schools with strict sun protection policies, people with darker skin are slower to produce vitamin D (the melanin in their skin acts as a natural sunscreen), children spending more time indoors on computers and in front of the TV, and weaker sun rays in the southern parts of the country means it takes longer for the body to produce vitamin D.
The sunshine dilemma
New Zealand have some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, so it is a balancing act between seeing enough sun for good vitamin D levels and avoiding sunburn. In summer, you only need to have the sun on your skin for 8-15 minutes outside the peak sunshine hours. In winter, this increases to 30-60 minutes between 12-2pm, exposing your hands, arms and face. If your preschooler isn’t seeing this much sunshine, speak to your doctor or pharmacist about vitamin D supplements.
Massey University is running a study which will test preschoolers this winter, to find out their vitamin D levels and to see if there are any links to childhood eczema, food allergy and respiratory diseases. They are recruiting 2-4 year olds from throughout New Zealand - Click here for more information.
You must be signed in to comment. Sign in or Register