Vitamin D: What Parents Should Know

Getting enough vitamin D is essential so kids’ bones can grow strong and their immune systems can ward off illness.

Vitamin D gets into the body through absorption of sunlight and ingestion of food. From April through the end of October, spending just 15 to 30 minutes outside in the middle of the day with hands and face exposed will stimulate the skin to make all the vitamin D your child needs. In fact, on a sunny summer day, a child wearing a bathing suit can generate 10,000 to 20,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D after 15 to 30 minutes. In a neat biological trick, a person’s body can’t “overdose” on vitamin D created by the sun.

Foods such as salmon, sardines, tuna, cod liver oil, egg yolks and shiitake mushrooms contain a lot of vitamin D. Many kids don’t seem to love these vitamin D super foods, so luckily store-bought milk is often fortified with vitamin D, as are many cereals and even orange juice. Not all dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, however, so make sure to read the labels.

When vitamin D supplements are helpful?

During the fall and winter, when the sun’s rays aren’t at an angle that will produce vitamin D in the skin, it’s good to give your child a vitamin.

Children who are obese, who have dark skin, who rarely go outside or who wear clothing that covers most of their skin may need supplements to ensure they have adequate levels of vitamin D all year round. Some medications, such as anticonvulsants, can interfere with the way our bodies metabolize vitamin D. Certain conditions, such as celiac disease, can also interfere with absorption of vitamin D. Discuss your child’s medical history and lifestyle with your pediatrician, and make sure to them about any medicine or herbal supplements your child takes. Your pediatrician can then determine your child’s daily vitamin D requirement.

The French Society of Pediatrics suggests that children from 18 months to 5 years, with no risk factors for vitamin D deficiency should receive this dosage plus two supplementations of 80,000 IU–100,000 during the winter. The same approach is proposed for adolescents: two similar supplementary doses during winter.

The sunscreen paradox!

Parents know that it’s important to protect their child’s skin from dangerous sunburns, skin damage and future skin cancers by using sunscreen. But sunscreen can reduce vitamin D production by 95% (SPF 8) to 99% (SPF 15).