Did you know how important vitamin D is for pregnant women and under 5s?
The deficiency of vitamin D, Rickets, has long been thought a Dickensian disease, along with scurvy and cholera; not something that we in the UK would have to contend with. But vitamin D has garnered a lot of attention of late with health professionals and the press, as vitamin D deficiency and even rickets rears its ugly head.
Often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is actually a hormone created in the skin when exposed to UVB rays. Itâ€™s only possible to make enough from April-September each year and around 70% of our requirements must be met by the sun; since we get so little in the diet.
However with the combination of sun safety, dreary British weather and more time spent indoors, many of us are lacking. Not a great deal is known about exactly how much exposure is needed â€“ especially for those with darker skins, but it is thought that many of us donâ€™t get enough.
Rickets isnâ€™t the only disease at play here â€“ some evidence links vitamin D deficiency to several disorders including cancer, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness and diabetes.
The Department of Health states that the following groups are more at risk since they have a higher demand for vitamin D or may lack the sufficient sun exposure;
- all pregnant and breastfeeding women
- babies and young childrenÂ under the ageÂ ofÂ five
- older people aged 65 years and over
- people who are not exposed to much sun, such as people who cover up their skin when outdoors,Â or those who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods
- people who have darker skin such as people of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin
An audit in Camden in 2012 found that only 32% of high risk children were being correctly supplemented. In 2011 at least 12 children were seen with rickets in Camden and surely countless more experience less serious deficiency or are undiagnosed.
The national programme Healthy Start provides vitamin D to pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under 5; however the uptake of the vitamins is very poor (32%).
To boost vitamin D levels in your diet, try including:
- oily fish
- breakfast cereals with added vitamin D
But remember, you still need sun exposure or a supplement as itâ€™s impossible to get enough from diet alone (without eating bucket loads of liver and oily fish, in itself, not recommended) The best time of day to get your sun exposure is between 11am-3pm and it could only take 10 to 15 minutes for some people â€“ less time than it takes to burn. People with darker skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D. Extra care should be taken with children since their skin is more delicate.
So, have you been out in the sun this week getting your vitamin D? Or do you slap on the sunscreen? How do you find a balance?
Camden are trialling universal distribution of vitamins for all pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children up to 4 years â€“ available from 5 childrenâ€™s centres (1a, Regentâ€™s Park, Agar, Harmood and Kilburn Grange). This pilot scheme wonâ€™t last long so get your free vitamins as soon as you can!Â Â
For more tips and workshops about healthy eating for under 5â€™s â€“ contact the Healthy Eating Team in Camden on 0207 974 6736, see our website www.camden.gov.uk/cyphealthyeating or our pinterest page www.pinterest.com/HETCamden