Vitamins and minerals for children: vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency impairs the absorption of dietary calcium and phosphorus, which can give rise to bone deformities in children.

Vitamin D and sunlight

The body creates vitamin D from modest exposure to direct UVB sunlight. Regular, short periods of UVB exposure without sunscreen during the summer months are enough for most people. However, children from six months to five years may not be able to get enough vitamin D in this way. In addition, as Scotland is north of 52 degrees latitude it does not receive enough UVB exposure during the winter months.

Sun exposure

It is important for everyone to be aware that longer exposure to the sun, especially for prolonged unprotected periods, increases the risk of skin cancer. Staying covered up and use of sunscreen (with a UVB factor of 15 or above) is important for most people spending time outside. In addition, it is important to cover up or protect the skin before it starts to turn red or burn.

Vitamin D and diet

There are some dietary sources of vitamin D such as oily fish (for example salmon, mackerel and sardines) and in egg yolks and meat. Manufacturers are required to add vitamin D to margarine above 80% fat*. Some manufacturers add it voluntarily to breakfast cereals, soya products, some dairy products, powdered milks and low-fat spreads; however, it is often in minimal amounts.  It is therefore difficult for most children to get the recommended 7.5 micrograms (μg) per day from diet alone.

 * UK legislation requires margarine to fortified with vitamin D. While fat spreads with a fat content of less than 80% are not subject to this requirement, some manufacturers voluntarily fortify these products with vitamin D.

It is recommended that all infants and children from six months to five years, take a vitamin D supplement of 7.5μg/day.

** This is based on Update on vitamin D: Position statement by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2007). However, as a precautionary measure the recommendations in this table for infants and children have been partly based on recommendations in the earlier report Weaning and the Weaning Diet (Dept of Health, 1994), and are set for a slightly wider age group.

You may also be interested in