“Got milk?” might be a more important question for parents to ask about their kid’s diet than they might think. Besides calcium, milk is loaded with vitamin D, which seems to be lacking in many American children’s diet. A 2009 analysis in the Journal Pediatrics found that 1 in 5 children ages 1-11 do not get enough vitamin D. In another study, researchers from Weil Cornell Medical College in New York City found that nearly half of African American teens do not get enough Vitamin D. The darker the skin the less vitamin D the body can create.

The Miracle Vitamin

Lack of vitamin D has been linked to many health problems. According to the Vitamin D Council, a group that studies the benefits of vitamin D: “current research has implicated vitamin D deficiency as a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, auto immune disease, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease and more.” Researchers in the Public Health Agency of Canada who had been studying vitamins D’s role in seasonal flu have announced they will adapt their research to include how vitamin D can help protect against the H1N1 virus. The Centers for Disease Control has reported that this virus targets young adults and children ages 6 months to 24 years more than other groups.

Supplements, Milk, Food, and Sun

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently raised its recommendation of vitamin D for children from 200 international units (IU) per day to 400 IU per day. African American children may need to double this recommendation. There are several ways to get this vital nutrient into kids’ diets. Most milk is fortified with vitamin D and recently the Food and Drug Administration has allowed soy milk products to add vitamin D as well. Breast milk is low in vitamin D, so if a baby is exclusively breast feed, she will need a supplement. Fortified orange juice is another way to drink in some vitamin D. According to the Office of Dietary Supplement, National Institutes of Health, the top vitamin D foods are: cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, eggs, liver and cheese. Of course, one of the easiest ways to get vitamin D is to spend 10-15 minutes per day in the sun.

Changes in Lifestyle

Over the years, children have decreased their intake of milk in favor of juice and soda. Many African American children are lactose intolerant and can’t stomach dairy milk. Cod liver oil is probably not on most kids top ten foods to eat, and playing video games has replaced playing outside in the sun. Parents must find ways to increase the intake of vitamin D for their children to avoid the health problems that come with a deficiency of this vital nutrient.