You might be striving to make sure your family is eating a healthy balanced diet but there could be one vital vitamin you’re overlooking. And the chances are your kids aren’t getting enough of it.
Vitamin D, known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, is made naturally in our skin when we’re out and about in the sun. But spending lots of time indoors means that many youngsters are deficient in vitamin D – in developed countries it’s as many as 80% of children, scientists estimate.
Bundle of benefits
That means they’re missing out on a whole bundle of benefits brought by vitamin D – from building strong bones and muscles to maintaining a healthy immune system. Vitamin D may also play a role in controlling asthma and eczema and preventing respiratory infections, diabetes and even cancer.
Foods naturally contain only a small amount of vitamin D. So what’s the solution? Popping a daily vitamin pill is one way of topping up vitamin D levels, but this can get expensive for parents.
Instead, fortifying foods with vitamin D may offer a more practical and sustainable solution that puts less pressure on parental purses. So that’s just what several countries have done.
But does this approach work?
Fortification reduces the risk of deficiency
In a review, researchers identified 20 studies from around the world that compared consumption of vitamin D-fortified foods (milk, cereal, juice, bread, yogurt and cheese) with non-fortified foods in children aged 1 to 18 years.
Overall, 47% of the children were deficient in vitamin D at the start of the studies.
The studies showed that food fortification significantly increased blood levels of vitamin D, and approximately halved the risk of vitamin D deficiency. Fortified milk appeared to increase vitamin D levels more than other fortified foods.
Smart kids and vitamin D
Some of the studies looked at mental ability, and one study found that vitamin D fortification was associated with a small but significant increase in IQ. This comes as growing evidence suggests that vitamin D may be important for maintaining healthy brain cells and the development of normal behaviour.
The authors of the review call for more studies on vitamin D fortification in children, especially to try to find out whether the type of food that is fortified makes a difference.
‘VitD [vitamin D] micronutrient fortification is an affordable, sustainable, and easily implementable solution for a global public health concern.’ – Al Khalifah et al, 2020.