Why is it important for children and preteens to get enough vitamin D?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Want healthy kids? Then cold or not, if it's sunny today, send 'em outside to play. It'll get their bodies moving (and give you a break). It'll also give kids a shot at getting enough sunshine for their skin to make flu- and cold-fighting vitamin D3. That's tough in winter if you live above the line from Atlanta to Los Angeles, but no harm in trying. Help it along when they come back in: Give them some cocoa made with D-fortified, no-fat milk. Repeat daily. And make canned salmon and tuna menu regulars. Both are good sources of vitamin D3.

Why is vitamin D3 so important for healthy kids? For one, kids who are low on D3 (many are) tend to gain weight, especially around their waist -- the riskiest place for their health (and yours) because belly fat threatens so many organs. Also, D3 fights viral infections in school kids. If they get enough, maybe all of you can sail through the cold and flu season.

There's another, more disturbing reason vitamin D3 is so imperative: A new report on kids at risk for heart trouble revealed that 20% of kids with signs of hardening arteries -- yes, kids with hardening arteries -- were low in vitamin D3. This was surprising, but maybe it shouldn't have been. Many studies have linked low D3 in adults to loads of cardiovascular trouble, from high blood pressure to stroke. The reverse is also true: Healthy levels of D3 reduce heart threats.

Get your kids tested for vitamin D3 if you haven't already, and talk to your pediatrician about D3 supplements. Like 75% of adults, a lot of kids need 'em, especially in winter. The usual recommendation is 400 IUs a day, but age and size matter. (For adults, we recommend 1,000 IUs; 1,200 after age 60.) Then when you get home, send 'em out to play.
It's important that children and preteens get enough vitamin D because D helps the body absorb calcium and so is essential for forming and maintaining strong bones -- and childhood and adolescence are key bone-building years. Children who don't get enough vitamin D may develop rickets, a disease that causes bones to become soft, leading to skeletal deformities such as stooped posture and bowlegs.

In fact, vitamin D is important right up through adolescence and adulthood. Yet some research shows that one in four teenage girls and one in five teenage boys don't consume enough vitamin D. Good sources include fatty fish, liver, cheese, egg yolks and fortified products such as dairy products, some orange juice and breakfast cereals.

Another important source of vitamin D is sunlight. Children and teens with naturally dark skin may be at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency than light-skinned kids because dark skin doesn't allow as much sun to penetrate.

Your child's doctor can help you figure out if your child or preteen is getting enough vitamin D.
Dr. Robin Miller, MD
Internal Medicine
Vitamin D is vital for the body to function properly. In this video, Dr. Robin Miller explains how much vitamin D is recommended per day for children and preteens.

Continue Learning about Vitamin D

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.