Winter Health: Vitamin D and Your Child
Monotonous gray skies can affect us all and by the end of winter we begin to long for the warmth of the sun on our skin without ever thinking about the various benefits sunlight has on our health. But before we head into this darkest of seasons, we can arm ourselves with information that might motivate us to seek out the sun this winter for our children’s sake.
How to get the “sunshine vitamin” when sunshine is hard to come by…
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Two simple things that we can give our children every day can protect them from bone and heart disease: Good diet and sunshine. Well…maybe not every day. Some of us live in rain-soggy and snow-covered parts of the country and unfortunately we can’t all feast on year-round sunshine. It’s tough to get our kids inside during the summer months, but equally tough to get them outside in the winter. Let’s face it, when the cold weather hits, sometimes it’s just easier to stay inside. There are numerous benefits to getting our kids outside to play, one of which is to ensure that they get the appropriate amounts of vitamin D to keep them healthy through the long winter months and throughout their lives.
Is My Child at Risk?
There are no obvious symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Only a blood test will show if our kids are deficient and most of us would hesitate to demand one. So the best we can do to ensure their health is to keep doing what we do best: keep in mind their health and well-being when we decide how to spend the dwindling daylight hours of these winter days!
Highest Risk for Low Vitamin D
- People with darker skin tones produce less Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
- Girls are more likely to have low levels of Vitamin D than boys.
- Older children are more likely than younger children to have low levels.
- Those who live sedentary lifestyles are at higher risk.
What Can We Do?
The best way to provide appropriate amounts of vitamin D to our kids is through a combination of diet and sunlight. Kids who drink vitamin D fortified milk more than once a week already have a better shot at maintaining appropriate levels. The trick is that neither sunlight nor diet alone can provide our kids what they need.
You Are My Sunshine
Just 15-20 minutes of sunlight each day can keep our kids vitamin D levels where they need to be. It sounds simple but in 2009, studies showed that 70% of children in the US had insufficient levels of vitamin D.
So while our kids might be rightfully addicted to their video games and various wonders of technology, it would behoove us to reintroduce them to the wonders of nature and see just how much fun they can have under the sun. In doing so, we can improve our children’s health and maybe lift our own spirits as well. After all, there is something magical about sunlight reflecting on a winter landscape! We can all benefit from taking a little time to enjoy the beauty of our outdoor surroundings.
Here are some fun ideas to get them outside when the sun makes its appearance:
10 Minute Outdoor Winter Activities
- Have an outdoor winter treasure hunt.
- Feed and observe winter birds.
- Have a daytime bonfire and make some s’mores.
- Go for a winter walk.
- Paint, draw or create some winter art or crafts.
Even as little as 10 minutes a day, 3 days a week of sun exposure is beneficial to the health of your child.
To Screen or Not to Screen
Modern parents are well aware of the risks of overexposure to the sun and we have become quite comfortable with having our children wear sunscreen like a second skin. This is an absolutely appropriate practice to prevent sun damage. The only problem is that sunscreens block the UV-B rays that our skin turns in to Vitamin D. So experts suggest we might be wise to hold off on the sunscreen for 10 minutes so they can soak up the nutrients they need from the sunlight without damaging their sensitive skin.
D is for Diet
When thinking about your child’s diet, consider that doctors recommend 1,000 IU per day in the form of vitamin D3. Check the levels of Vitamin D in the foods they eat regularly and if they are getting less than this amount, you might want to consider a vitamin supplement.
Foods with Vitamin D
- Fortified Milk (100 IU per 8 ounces)
- Fortified Juices (100 IU per 8 ounces)
- Fortified Yogurt (
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals (40-50 IU per 8 ounces)
- Salmon (530 IU per 3 ounces)
- Canned Tuna (200 IU per 3 ounces)
- Egg Yolks (21 IU per yolk)
As parents, there is little we wouldn’t do to help our children ward off disease. And to find that there are such simple things we can give them on a daily basis to keep them healthy is a gift that makes our job that much easier. So let’s get out there, take in the sunlight and watch our little ones thrive!