An indoor lifestyle can lead to poor health in kids

THE Irish Osteoporosis Society is urging parents to pay attention to their children’s Vitamin D intake after one of the coldest, wettest summers on record.

Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, vitamin D is the only one the body makes itself, when skin is exposed to sunshine.

As many as 88% of primary school children are reported to have vitamin D intakes below recommended levels.

Lack of sun this summer isn’t the only culprit, says Professor Moira O’Brien, Irish Osteoporosis Society founder. 

“Many children are inside playing their Xbox, not out in the sun.” 

Indeed, a recent Dutch study found almost one-third of six-year-olds were vitamin D deficient. 

It found that playing outside for at least an hour daily cut children’s risk for vitamin D deficiency by 29%, compared to those who played outside for less than one hour.

But even when children are in sunshine they’ve got factor 50 sun-block on, says O’Brien, which means they’re not getting any vitamin D — an SPF of 15 reduces vitamin D production by 98%.

“We’ve really gone overboard,” comments O’Brien, who says more people die of osteoporosis than they do of skin cancer. 

“One in two women and one in four men over age 50 will develop an osteoporotic fracture. Between age eight and 20 years, 60% of young people’s bone is laid down. And children get rickets if they don’t get enough vitamin D.”

Some nice autumn sunshine recently isn’t going to help our vitamin D stores going into winter — from October to March, in countries at latitudes greater than 42° north, little or no vitamin D can be produced due to sunlight quality and quantity. Ireland is 51-55° north.

Vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption — for building strong bones and teeth. 

“Without adequate vitamin D, bone isn’t properly calcified. Low vitamin D causes the parathyroid to become over active — taking calcium from bones — so as to maintain blood calcium levels. So osteoporosis develops,” warns O’Brien.

Vitamin D also helps regulate cell division, aids normal muscle function and supports function of the immune system. US-based endocrinologist and

Vitamin D specialist Dr Michael Holick concludes from studies that young children, deficient in the vitamin, may be imprinted for the rest of their lives with increased risks for type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and many common cancers. 

* Visit www.fsai.ie/faq/vitamin_d.html 

TOP TIPS

* US recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is 15mcg for one to 70-year-olds.

* Best sources are oily fish (mackerel, fresh salmon, fresh tuna), fresh meat, liver and eggs, fortified milk and fortified breakfast cereals.

* A 200ml glass of fortified milk contains approximately 40% of daily recommended vitamin D.

* Glass of fortified milk, matchbox size of cheese and a yogurt contain 250mg to 300mg of calcium.

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