Vitamin D deficiency is a heavy burden for obese, minority youths

Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, but nearly half of kids who are obese don’t have sufficient levels of this important nutrient. The risk is even higher for severely obese and minority children.

The high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in severely obese and minority children suggests that targeted screening and treatment guidance is needed, according to a study by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“One in every two children with severe obesity is vitamin D deficient, and only about 10 percent of severely obese African-American children are not deficient,” says Dr. Christy Turer, Instructor at UT Southwestern and a pediatrician at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

Left untreated, Vitamin D deficiency can pose serious health risks that include rickets and osteomalacia, a condition that causes softening of the bones. The deficiency has also been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and severe asthma.

“While we don’t know for sure what causes the deficiency, there are things parents can do to reduce their child’s risk,” Dr. Turer says.

Helpful behavioral changes include limiting television/computer and video game time to less than two hours a day, increasing physical activity to more than two hours a week, and encouraging children to drink two to three cups of low-fat vitamin D-fortified milk per day.

While 600 international units of vitamin D per day is recommended for healthy children, obese children may need more, Dr. Turer says. Parents should talk to their pediatrician regarding the appropriate dose. Several types of vitamin D-fortified milk contain as much as 100 international units per 8-ounce glass, as do many fortified orange juices.

Learn more about UT Southwestern's clinical services in pediatrics.

Media Contact: Jan Jarvis