Can low levels of vitamin D increase your child’s risk of getting fat, staying fat, and developing diabetes? New studies suggest the answer may be yes.
A recent study by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas is the latest of many to show a strong link between vitamin d deficiency and obesity, insulin resistance, and increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes.
The study, which monitored levels of vitamin D, blood sugar, serum insulin, blood pressure, and dietary habits in a group of several hundred obese children, indicated that the children with the lowest levels of the vitamin were the most obese, had the highest levels of insulin resistance, and were therefore at the greatest risk of having prediabetes.
The study also linked poor dietary habits with low d vitamin levels and diabetes risk. Older children and teenagers in the study group had the lowest levels of the vitamin, due at least in part to skipping breakfast and drinking more soda, the researchers said.
These findings echo those of a 2011 Hasbro University study published in the Journal Of Adolescent Health that found most obese adolescents have insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels. That study also found that raising the levels of the vitamin in obese adolescents was challenging; a standard course of supplemental vitamin D brought only about 43 percent of the obese adolescents to sufficiency levels, and even repeated courses of supplemental vitamin D failed to bring a significant percentage of the subjects to sufficiency.
The incidence of childhood obesity has reached what many experts consider epidemic proportions. According to recent estimates, 18% of US children and adolescents are obese, more than tripling the rate of child/adolescent obesity over the past 40 years. And the epidemic of overweight children isn’t limited to the US; 2011 research by the University of Bristol estimated that childhood obesity is also a problem in the UK, affecting one out of five children there.
How great a role does the sunshine vitamin – or the lack thereof – play in childhood obesity? Experts say that while more research is needed to determine whether vitamin d deficiency is a side effect or a causal factor, the dangers of insufficient levels of the vitamin remain critical to overweight children.
Vitamin D deficiency, once associated primarily with the development of the bone-softening disease rickets, has long been linked to a whole host of serious health problems. In addition to bone and skeletal weakness, low levels of the vitamin are strongly associated with cardiovascular disease, asthma, dental problems, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
The current recommended daily intake of vitamin D is set at 600 IU for children and adults up to 70 years of age, an amount that some experts question as being too low for the population in general and for overweight people in particular, since obesity is believed to interfere with the body’s utilization of the vitamin.
While exposure to sunlight triggers the body to manufacture the vitamin, limited sun exposure due to climate and lifestyle choices can lead to serious deficiency. Parents are urged to encourage their children to get reasonable sun exposure through outdoor play, and to make sure their children’s diet includes foods that have extra vitamin D added (including fortified milk, cereal, and other dairy products.)