Pediatricians say double vitamin D dose

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The American Academy of Pediatrics has doubled its recommendation for a daily dose of vitamin D in children in the hopes of preventing rickets and reaping other health benefits, the group said on Monday.

Vitamins are for sale in front of the pharmacy at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas June 5, 2008. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

“We are doubling the recommended amount of vitamin D children need each day because evidence has shown this could have life-long health benefits,” said Dr. Frank Greer, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which released the new guideline recommendations at a meeting in Boston.

“Supplementation is important because most children will not get enough vitamin D through diet alone,” Greer said in a statement.

The new guidelines from the nation’s leading group of pediatricians now call for children to receive 400 international units of vitamin D per day, beginning in the first few days of life.

Children who do not get enough vitamin D are at risk for rickets, a bone-softening disease that result in stunted growth and skeletal deformities if not corrected while the child is young. Babies who are exclusively breast-fed are at particular risk.

“Breast-feeding is the best source of nutrition for infants. However, because of vitamin D deficiencies in the maternal diet, which affect the vitamin D in a mother’s milk, it is important that breast-fed infants receive supplements of vitamin D,” Dr. Carol Wagner of the physician’s group, who helped write the report, said in a statement.

Vitamin D can prevent and treat rickets, but dietary sources of vitamin D are fairly limited. Vitamin D-fortified milk is the most common source, but fortified cereals and oily fish such as tuna, mackerel and sardines also contain vitamin D.

Rickets remains rare in United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. But there were reports in 2000 and 2001 of rickets among breast-fed infants.

Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, but exposure to sunlight can also raise the risk of skin cancer. Air pollution, sunscreen and clothing all limit the amount of vitamin D the body can synthesize from sunlight.

The group suggests non-breast-fed infants and older children who are drinking less than one quart (liter) of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk daily should receive a vitamin D supplement.

Adequate vitamin D throughout childhood may reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life. In adults, new evidence suggests that vitamin D plays a role in the immune system and may help prevent infections, autoimmune diseases, cancer and diabetes.

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Will Dunham and Xavier Briand