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Vitamin D and children

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Vitamin D is crucial for children's health as it plays a vital role in various physiological functions, especially in bone development and overall immune system function. Here are some key points commonly sked by parents to our paediatricians about Vitamin D and its importance for children:

Why is vitamin D important and how does my child get it?

Vitamin D has many benefits and is crucial to healthy bones, muscles and teeth. It does this by helping to control the levels of calcium and phosphate in your child’s body. Too little vitamin D in children can lead to a condition called rickets, which causes pain, reduced growth and weak bones.

The majority of vitamin D is created by our bodies when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight. This is why people tend to get less vitamin D during the winter months. There is also small amounts of vitamin D in some foods, such as oily fish, red meats and egg yolk. Some food sources have vitamin D added artificially, such as oat and soy milk, infant formula, cereals, margarine and more.

What is the government advice on whether I should give my child vitamin D?

The UK Department of Health and Social Care advises that all children should receive vitamin D supplementation all year round from birth to the age of 4. From birth to 1 year of age children should receive 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day, and from 1 to 4 years of age should receive 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day. The exception to this is babies fed on infant formula. Formula-fed babies do not need vitamin D supplementation as infant formula already contains enough. You should start vitamin D supplementation once your child is having less than 500ml of infant formula a day.

For children over 4 years of age in the UK, it is recommended to take vitamin D supplements daily from the end of September to late March/early April.

Is the advice on vitamin D different depending on my child’s ethnicity?

Yes. As mentioned above, for all children from birth to 4 years old, expect formula-fed babies, vitamin D supplementation is recommended all year round. In older children above 4 years old, it is recommended in the winter months when there is less sun exposure. If your child is from an ethnic minority with dark skin, such as African, African-Caribbean or South Asian origin then they might not get enough vitamin D through sunlight, even in summer months. Because of this, the recommendation is to consider vitamin D supplementation all year round from birth.

What happens if my child takes too much vitamin D?

Like many things in life, too much of a good thing can hurt, and this is also true for vitamin D. Taking too much vitamin D over a long period of time can cause increased calcium levels that can weaken bones and damage the kidneys and heart.

Infants under 12 months should not take more than 25 micrograms a day, children from 1 to 10 years old should not take more than 50 micrograms a day, and children 11 years and above should not take more than 100 micrograms a day. There are certain conditions that mean that some children cannot take as much safely, so if in doubt you should consult your doctor or pharmacist.

You cannot overdose on vitamin D from sunlight exposure, as your body is able to self-regulate this.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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