Vitamin D deficiency is very common in the UK due to diet, lifestyle, weather and our northern latitude. It is estimated that 16% of children in the UK are deficient in vitamin D – that’s over 1 million children that have a vitamin D deficiency!
With numbers so high, let’s have a look at what Vitamin D actually is, why it’s important and what you can do!
The vitamin D found in your blood is actually a hormone! It is made by your body via the skin’s exposure to sunlight.
We can also get vitamin D directly from supplements and a handful of different foods (more on that later).
Vitamin D does get stored by the body, but these stores can be quickly used up during the winter if levels are not maximised over the summer.
Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium and is used to strengthen bones and teeth. It is an extremely important vitamin for toddlers as they go through rapid periods of growth.
Prolonged deficiency in children can result in rickets - the main signs of which are skeletal abnormalities (for example bowed legs) with bone pain or tenderness and muscle weakness.
Cases of rickets amongst British children aged under five has increased in recent years, rising since 1997 – but this disease was originally eliminated in Britain during Victorian times – so why is it returning at such a high rate?
It’s important to remember we’re not seeing more cases of rickets because of neglect or poor parenting.
Several factors have all combined, contributing to children having a lower intake of vitamin D. Let’s have a look at some of these factors:
- Excessive use of sun creams for children, although promoting safety can hinder the absorption of vitamin D from sunlight.
- Children opting to stay inside more, using technology for play and learning.
- Cultural differences such as ones which mean children don’t spend as much time outdoors or are more covered up.
- Lack of exposure to the sun in pregnant women can result in exposing the foetus to the deficiency.
These are just a few factors that can affect your little one’s intake of Vitamin D – with such a wide range of variables it’s important to ensure your child is receiving this to ensure healthy development.
So, what can you do?
Don’t rely on sunlight alone!
Ensure your child’s weekly diet includes:
- Oily fish, red meat or egg yolks.
- Fat spreads fortified with vitamin D.
- Vegan milk alternatives fortified with vitamin D such as almond, soy or rice.
- Or fortified breakfast cereals - such as Weetabix, Cornflakes, Rice Krispies and Shreddies.
Please note in the UK, cows' milk is generally not a good source of vitamin D because it is not fortified, as it is in some other countries like the USA.
Another source of vitamin D is dietary supplements!
The NHS recommends that babies from birth to 1 year of age should have a daily supplement of 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if they are:
- Formula-fed and are having less than 500ml of infant formula a day (as infant formula is already fortified with vitamin D).
Children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year.
You can buy vitamin D supplements or vitamin drops containing vitamin D (just make sure they’re labelled for under 5s) at most pharmacies and supermarkets!
Women and children who qualify for the Healthy Start scheme can also get free supplements containing vitamin D – click here to check this out.
Click here for Holland & Barrett’s Guide to Vitamin D for children and babies.
Click here to the NHS vitamins for children guide
Click here for the NHS Vegan nutrition guideline.
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