According to two recent studies,
most kids in this country aren’t
getting enough Vitamin D. Scientists
say a lot of adults are low in the
vitamin, too. Ann Dornfeld looks
at whether the solution is as simple
as spending more time in the sun:
According to two recent studies, most kids in this country
aren’t getting enough Vitamin D. Scientists say a lot of
adults are low in the vitamin, too. Ann Dornfeld looks at
whether the solution is as simple as spending more time in
(sound of kids building sandcastles on the beach)
If you’ve been to the beach this summer, or anywhere
outdoors, you probably slathered on the obligatory
sunblock. If you were extra-careful, you wore a wide-
brimmed hat, or made sure your kids wore t-shirts in the
water instead of a skimpy suit.
Thing is, the solar radiation you work so hard to avoid is
also kind of healthy. That’s because it creates Vitamin D
through a chemical reaction in your skin.
“Vitamin D is essential.”
Susan Ott is a professor of medicine at the University of
“It’s actually a steroid hormone that helps you absorb
calcium from your diet. And it works in your intestines so
the calcium can get into your system and become
available to the bones.”
Ott specializes in bone diseases like osteoporosis and
osteomalacia – both diseases that Vitamin D helps
When you slather on sunblock, you’re also blocking the
creation of Vitamin D.
Before you run outside to soak up the last few rays of
summer unprotected, there’s a catch. Ott says no one
knows how much sun you need to get enough Vitamin D.
It depends on where you live, the time of year, how much
skin you’re exposing – and even the color of your skin.
“People with dark skin do not make as much Vitamin D
with the same amount of sunlight exposure – they need to
be out in the sunlight longer to get the same amount of
Vitamin D as a fair person.”
Scientists don’t have a way to recommend how much sun
you need to get enough D.
Kim Nowak-Cooperman is a nutritionist at Seattle
Children’s Hospital. She says a recent study looked at
people who live in Honolulu.
“They looked at 93 people who got three or more hours of
sun every day for five days a week. And they actually
found that half of those people were Vitamin D insufficient,
when you would think that they would be very, very high in
Getting your Vitamin D from food can also be hard. It’s
naturally abundant only in oily fish like sardines, salmon
and mackerel. Since the 1930s, Vitamin D has been
added to milk to prevent the bone-softening disease
rickets in children. Now rickets is making a comeback.
Nowak-Cooperman says that’s because most kids don’t
drink enough milk to get the recommended daily
allowance of Vitamin D. And even that recommendation
might not even be enough.
“Originally that number was derived from the amount of
Vitamin D that would prevent rickets. We are now seeing
that Vitamin D has a more important role and that the
insufficiency of Vitamin D can be implicated in other
Studies show Vitamin D might prevent everything from
rheumatoid arthritis to diabetes to tuberculosis. So the
American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends kids
get twice the US RDA for Vitamin D. That means 400 IU from either four glasses of milk or a
Professor Susan Ott says adults should take a
supplement, too. She recommends 800 to 1000 IU. Any more than that, she says, and you risk
absorbing too much calcium.
“I think right now there’s a fad and people are taking too
much. I just went to the drugstore the other day and I saw
pills that were 5000 units. That’s enough to last you a
week! And I have patients that are taking that every day.
I’m worried they’re gonna get kidney stones.”
Ott says there’s also a trend for people to get blood tests
to determine whether they’re getting enough Vitamin D.
She says unless you’re elderly or have other serious
health problems, it probably isn’t necessary.
So what should you do? Ott says just pop that daily
supplement – 400 IU for kids, 800 for adults – and
keep slathering on the sunblock.
For The Environment Report, I’m Ann Dornfeld.