I wonder how future generations will perceive ours for vilifying the source of all life on Earth — the Sun. It’s gotten so bad that our children are now lacking in precious vitamin D, which we are supposed to receive directly from that big ole ball of fire.

When I was a kid the closest thing we had to sunscreen was the Windex bottle full of the baby oil and iodine. And sure, we’ve got the pre-cancerous spots on our faces to prove it, but those were some wicked awesome tans. Not to mention what our parents’ lack of knowledge did for the dermatology industry.

Of course I don’t advocate leaving your child unprotected at the beach all day, but lighten up. It’s just the sun. And at least back in the day, we got our vitamin D.

American Children Lack Vitamin D

A report released in the November issue of Pediatrics stated that over 6 million American children — that’s almost 1 in 5 — are lacking this essential nutrient. The optimal amounts are still under debate, but scientists seem to agree that appropriate levels could decease the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. (Lending credence to my new threat, “Go play outside because too much Guitar Hero causes cancer!”)<

How to Get Vitamin D Into Your Kids

Multivitamins that include vitamin D are a good way to increase kids’ levels of Vitamin D. Researchers found that less than half of all children were taking a multivitamin. While there is debate about the best ways to get vitamin D, researchers agree on one thing: good old-fashioned summer sunshine does the trick nicely.

According to the report:

Sun exposure is best for obtaining vitamin D, because the skin manufactures the nutrient upon exposure to sunlight. However, during the winter, UVB rays in the Northeast are insufficient for vitamin D production, experts say, and sunscreen use in summer can also reduce the skin's ability to produce vitamin D.

Even so, because of the risk of skin cancer, the sun takes a bad wrap. Dr. Jonathan Mansbach, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston state says:

Summer sunlight exposure is the major source of vitamin D for most people. But [too much] sun exposure can cause sunburns and eventually skin cancer. Until more research is performed, we think the safest bet is to take vitamin D supplements.

Supplementing the American Diet with Vitamin D

A few foods naturally contain vitamin D:

  • fatty fish like salmon
  • egg yolks
  • some cheeses
  • some meats, including liver (oh yeah, try getting that into your kids, blech!)
  • other foods like some cereals and milk are fortified with vitamin D

Some are pushing for vitamin D fortification in more foods. However, the researchers of this report disagree.

Food fortification would raise the levels of vitamin D for the U.S. population as a whole, but not everyone in the U.S. is vitamin D-deficient. Therefore, on a population basis, it's probably easier to have people take vitamin D supplements.

It’s a serious health problem. Dr. Michael F. Holick, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics and director of the vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory at the Boston University School of Medicine called vitamin D deficiency the “most common medical condition in the world."

And then he said something that gives me hope in this crazy paranoid world:

Children should take vitamin D supplements and be less afraid of sensible sun exposure.

In other words, “Take your vitamins and go play outside!”

For more information on vitamin D, visit the Nemours Foundation.