In order to get adequate amounts of vitamin D, we need direct sun exposure on 80% of our bodies between the time of 12 and 2pm for 20-30 minutes. You’d be forgiven for thinking that in our sub-tropical paradise of a city, a lot of us would be getting that. In fact, a 2009 survey of Hong Kongers showed that 60% of us are deficient in vitamin D. This is particularly important in babies and kids who need vitamin D as they develop.
Why is vitamin D so important in children?
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorous in order to build and maintain strong bones. Vitamin D deficiency causes soft bones in children (known as rickets), and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (known as osteomalacia); which increases the risk of bone fractures. Additionally, low levels of vitamin D have been linked to breast, colon and prostate cancers, heart disease, depression and weight gain but more studies are needed to determine the significance.
Recent research has encouraged many governments and pediatric groups to increase the amount of daily vitamin D recommended. This increase is a result of new evidence showing its life-long health benefits. Supplementation is important, because most children will not get enough vitamin D through diet and sun exposure alone.
Where does vitamin D come from?
Majority of our vitamin D is through sun exposure. Most people need at least 20-30 minutes of sun exposure on 80% of their bodies when the sun is strongest, between 12 and 2pm, however the risks posed by sun exposure counterbalance the benefits. Many other factors affect the amount absorbed such as the degree of skin pigmentation, area exposed, sunscreen and season.
Adding vitamin D to mainstream milk in the United States in the 1930s caused a huge decrease in the number of kids with rickets. Other than vitamin D-fortified milk and baby formula, food sources such as salmon, tuna, other oily fish, liver, fortified dairy products and egg yolk contain vitamin D. However, the latest available research has deemed that this is likely not enough for growing bodies.
Very little vitamin D is found in breast milk, even if the breastfeeding mother is taking vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D supplements are most easily taken as oral drops.
How much vitamin D should my child have?
Unlike other countries, in Hong Kong the Paediatric Society and Family Health Service have not issued any formal recommendations about vitamin D supplement. We asked Dr. Mei Mei Yip 葉美美醫生 what dosages should be recommended for babies and children.
Breastfed babies: From few weeks of life, vitamin D 400IU daily.
Formula fed babies: Baby formula is vitamin D-fortified but in order to obtain enough vitamin D, babies must be drinking at least one litre per day of formula. If your baby is drinking less than a liter, then your baby will require oral vitamin D supplementation.
Mixed feeding babies: From few weeks of life, vitamin D 400IU daily, unless the formula is more than a liter a day.
Children and adolescents: Older kids and teens should be encouraged to eat vitamin D-containing food sources such as fortified milk, salmon, tuna, dairy products and egg yolk; however, it is unlikely they will be getting sufficient vitamin D from food alone, therefore supplements are advised 400IU daily.
Where to get vitamin D in Hong Kong?
Vitamin D drops are available over-the-counter in most pharmacies, at your doctor’s office or online through health product sites such as hk.iherb.com. They’re available in oral drops, gummies, chewables, or even sprays. The easiest way to administer vitamin D for babies, kids and adolescents alike is via liquid oral drops. Ask your doctor for advice on choosing the right one.