Study: Vitamin D deficiency prevalent in overweight kids

By Jan Jarvis

Overweight and obese children have significantly lower levels of vitamin D than their healthy-weight peers, according to UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers. This vitamin deficiency is even more prevalent among minority children.

Dr. Christy Turer
Dr. Christy Turer

“One in two children with severe obesity is vitamin D deficient,” said Dr. Christy Turer, Instructor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern. “But only about 10 percent of severely obese African-American children are not deficient.”

Nearly half of severely obese children are deficient in vitamin D compared with 21 percent of healthy-weight children, Dr. Turer said. Among severely obese minority children, 87 percent of African-American youngsters and 52 percent of Latinos are deficient.

The study, published in the January issue of Pediatrics, is believed to be the first to provide national estimates on the prevalence of a vitamin D deficiency among overweight, obese, and severely obese children age 6 to 18 in the United States. The high prevalence suggests the need for targeted screening and treatment guidance.

Vitamin D graph

The deficiency is associated with many chronic diseases, including hypertension, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Children who don’t get enough vitamin D also are at risk for fractures, tooth loss, and rickets.

Data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included more than 12,000 children, were used for the analysis.

“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 said.

Those include behavioral changes such as limiting TV time, reducing use of computers and video games to less than two hours a day, and increasing physical activity to more than two hours a week. Because sun exposure is one of the main ways to get vitamin D, outdoor activities can help. Parents also should encourage their children to drink two to three cups of low-fat vitamin D-fortified milk per day.

If a child is overweight or obese, parents should ask their doctor about their child's risk of vitamin D deficiency. Although 600 international units of vitamin D per day is recommended for healthy children, obese children may need more, Dr. Turer said. Parents should consult with their child’s doctor about the appropriate dose.