Telltale signs of Vitamin D deficiency in children; measures to lower the risk
Does your child often complain of muscle cramps or suffer from weak immunity? Vitamin D deficiency can lead to these signs and symptoms in kids.
Vitamin D deficiency is growing in children more so post pandemic as the little ones stayed cooped inside their houses and got fewer opportunities to play outside due to Covid-induced lockdowns. The deficiency is more common in the age group of 2-14. There are other risk factors that can lead to Vitamin D deficiency in children. Premature babies, children who do not have enough milk or those who do not get sunlight are at risk. 151.9 million children were found have Vitamin D deficiency in India in 2019, as per a report by Nature, released in October 2022. Limiting children's screen time and feeding them foods rich in Vitamin D like fish, liver oil, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, mushroom and vegetables high in vitamin D like spinach, kale, okra, and collard greens can help.
"Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the development of a child. It keeps our body healthy and strengthens bones and muscles. It also helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from foods and supplements, safeguarding against heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, infections, immune system problems, cancer (colon, breast, and prostate) and multiple sclerosis. However, its deficiency may take a toll on physical and mental health," says Dr. Sanjeev Dutta, HOD and Sr. Consultant - Neonatology & Paediatrics, Marengo Asia Hospitals, Faridabad.
Causes of Vitamin D deficiency
Dr Dutta says lack of sun exposure, playtime and unhealthy diet is behind the vitamin D deficiency among children.
"Today there is a high reduction in children 's physical activities as they prefer to socialise online than outdoors. They also spend more time on screen, making them low on natural vitamin D -sunshine vitamin. Babies who are born prematurely or those who are breastfed, children who do not drink enough milk, children who spend most of their time indoors or live in a cloudy or cold climate most of the time, are prone to develop this deficiency. Obese kids are more vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency as Fat cells hold the body back from using vitamin D," he adds.
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency
Most common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency reported among children include muscle weakness or cramps, slow growth, weak immunity, bone pain, osteomalacia (softening of the bones), fatigue, or depression.
"The condition is seen most in 2–14-year-old children. Owing to prolonged and severe vitamin D deficiency, Children and infants are also likely to develop rickets. The illness rickets may lead to softening, thinning, weakening and deforming of the bones that can occur in growing children. Reduced levels of Vitamin D in young children also raise the risk of hormonal imbalance like parathyroid, testosterone and progesterone. In the long term, Vitamin D deficiency can become the cause of skeletal deformities, brittle bones, frequent fractures and premature osteoporosis. Its deficiency may also hamper the mental health of a child as well," said Dr Dutta while explaining the long term and short-term implications of Vitamin D deficiency.
How to lower risk of Vitamin D deficiency
Dr Dutta shares the following tips:
- To treat Vitamin D deficiency in children, Vitamin D supplements are prescribed.
- Sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D therefore a daily exposure to sunlight at least 30 minutes is highly advisable.
- Avoid spicy and oily food items, replace them with highly nutritious food like fish, liver oil, eggs, milk butter, cheese, mushroom and vegetables high in vitamin D (spinach, kale, okra, and collard greens).
- Limit children's screen time and allow them play outside daily for at least one or two hours that will help in their physical development.