Does your child come home, grab a soda, and plop down in front of the TV or computer? Shunning milk and the sun is more and more common for children, and the result is a lack of vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and keeps bones strong. Research indicates that even a mild vitamin D deficiency can stunt growth and decrease the ability for children to meet their peak bone density, which can increase their risk for osteoporosis later in life. A true deficiency can cause rickets.
Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) increased the Vitamin D recommended intake. Now, the AAP recommends 400 IU/day for children birth to 1 year and 600 IU/day for everyone over 1 year of age. Putting skim or low-fat milk on fortified cereal is your best bet, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Multivitamins or orange juice fortified with vitamin D also are options, but milk should be your first choice. Children who are lactose-intolerant can drink lactose-free milk.
In addition to adequate vitamin D and calcium, children and teens also need adequate exercise, including impact activities, such as running, gymnastics, and ball games, to build strong bones. The impact on the major bones in these sports signals the bones to boost their strength. The bones are able to do this if they have enough vitamin D and calcium available. However, due to the established link between sun exposure and skin cancer, the AAP does not recommend unprotected sun exposure to increase vitamin D levels.
Children in northern climates get less sun and are more at risk than others for a lack of vitamin D. Dark-skinned youths, whose bodies don't make as much vitamin D, also are more at risk because their skin is protected from sun exposure by increased melanin. Talk to your child's doctor if you have questions.
If your child doesn't drink plain milk, get creative:
Use milk in place of water when you make oatmeal or soup.
Make fruit smoothies with milk.
Serve chocolate milk.
Prepare hot chocolate or pudding with milk.
Use fortified soy milk.
Offer cheese that's high in calcium as a substitute for milk.