Milk is not enough: Sunshine-deprived Puget Sound children need more vitamin D

Pediatrician Lauren Athay, MD, is with Virginia Mason Pediatrics in Federal Way. Phone: (253) 874-1616.  - Courtesy photo
Pediatrician Lauren Athay, MD, is with Virginia Mason Pediatrics in Federal Way. Phone: (253) 874-1616.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

By Lauren Athay, MD, Virginia Mason Pediatrics

The Pacific Northwest is famous for many things. Sunshine, however, is not one of them. My family recently relocated to the area, and I knew the local weather would affect our daily activities.

I also knew the weather could affect our health. Along with new rain boots and umbrellas, I made sure my family started vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D, along with calcium, is well known for playing a critical role in building strong bones. Without enough vitamin D, bones will be weak and soft, a disease called rickets.

There is now evidence that vitamin D may be important in the health of the immune and cardiovascular systems. Providing your child with correct amounts of vitamin D could also be important in the prevention of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, lupus and some kinds of cancer.

Our skin makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun. With an average of only 65 sunny days per year in Federal Way and the South Sound, the sun is not a dependable source of vitamin D for residents. Additionally, clothing and the use of sunscreen interfere with the process.

Vitamin D can be found naturally in only a few foods, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna), egg yolk and beef liver. Milk, yogurt, cereal and orange juice often have vitamin D added to them. Even with fortification, however, it is very difficult to get enough of this essential vitamin from diet alone.

Let’s talk numbers

An infant, child or adolescent generally requires about 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day. One cup of milk provides 100 IU of vitamin D — which means a child would need to drink a whopping 32 ounces of vitamin D-fortified milk each day to get the daily recommended dose. Most children can’t drink this amount, nor do many of them have a taste for sardines or beef liver.

The American Academy of Pediatrics therefore recommends that 400 IU of vitamin D supplementation be provided daily starting soon after birth.

Liquid sunshine

Vitamin D supplements come in many forms and can be found at your local grocery store, pharmacy or vitamin supply store.

For infants and children under the age of 3, vitamin drops are used. Chewable vitamins are generally given to children over the age of 3. Most multi-vitamins for children include the recommended daily dose.

As long as my children call the Pacific Northwest home, I’ll make sure they get 400 IU of the sunshine vitamin every day. Speak to your pediatrician if you have questions about vitamin D supplementation for your child.


About the writer: Pediatrician Lauren Athay, MD, is with Virginia Mason Pediatrics in Federal Way. Phone: (253) 874-1616.


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