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Vitamin D: Is Your Child Getting Enough? Part 1

August 25, 2015 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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In Part 1 of this series you’ll learn about the fishy history of Vitamin D and the daily recommendations for kids to ensure good bone health.

If vitamins were people, vitamin D would be a media darling. It would be frequently featured in the news with a lot of ‘likes’ and followers on Facebook and Twitter. It’s the only vitamin with a cool nickname—the “sunshine vitamin,” and is still being actively researched, about 80 years after it’s chemical structure was first identified. With all this buzz it can be easy to overlook this vitamin’s fishy past.

A Short History

Vitamin D was the fourth vitamin (after A, B and C) to be discovered by scientists. The discovery was a result of efforts to find the cause and cure for rickets—a painful condition where children’s bones become soft and weak leading to skeletal deformities. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s rickets was epidemic in England and other industrial areas with low-sunlight.

Here’s the fishy connection. Scientists found that cod liver oil helped prevent and cure rickets—though it took some time to figure out how. Before milk and soy beverage had vitamin D added to them, fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel and trout) and fish liver oil (from cod fish) were one of the only food sources of vitamin D. Thankfully rickets is now uncommon, and a spoonful of cod liver oil is no longer a routine part of breakfast for most kids.

A national survey of Canadians conducted between 2009 and 2011 showed that between 71 per cent and 89 per cent of children (depending on the age range) had adequate blood levels of vitamin D for bone health. This leaves a significant number of children who are not getting enough vitamin D for bone health. The recommended daily amounts of vitamin D for children are based on vitamin D’s role in maintaining bone health. Beyond bone health, there is ongoing research into what other benefits this unique vitamin may have in the areas of immune function, heart disease and some types of cancer. Here’s how much vitamin D is currently recommended for children:

Vitamin D

Age Group Daily Amount Kids Need*
Infants 0 to 12 months old 400 IU (10 mcg)
Children 600 IU (15 mcg)
Note: *The Recommended Dietary Allowance is expressed in IU (International Units) and mcg (micrograms). 40 IU of Vitamin D = 1mcg. The recommendations are based on an assumption of minimal sun exposure (for example, what is typical in the winter months).

Wondering how you can be sure your child is getting enough vitamin D for good bone development? Check back next week when we’ll explore sources of the sunshine vitamin.


Related blogs

Vitamin D: Is Your Child Getting Enough? Part 2
Vitamin D and Calcium, the Dairy Free Way

Recommended resources

Vitamin D Supplements for Breastfeeding Babies
HealthLink BC: Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D
Statistics Canada: Vitamin D Blood Levels of Canadians
Dietitians of Canada: Vitamin D: What You Need to Know
The Globe and Mail: The Vitamin D Dilemma: How Much Should We Be Taking?

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