September 5, 2012

14th August 2012- Despite the importance of vitamin D for infants and children being high on the national agenda, a recent survey found that 66% of healthcare professionals (HCPs)[i] were unfamiliar with the Chief Medical Officer’s letter restating Government advice that all infants and young children aged six months to five years should be given a daily supplement of vitamin D[ii].

Further research from Cow & Gate Growing Up Milk reveals nearly eight out of 10 parents are unaware of toddlers’ specific nutritional needs in relation to vitamin D[iii]while, more worryingly, the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey revealed that toddlers are getting only 26% of their daily vitamin D recommendation[iv] from their diets[v].

Leading dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton comments: “Given that fewer than one in 10 toddlers receives a supplement and many HCPs remain unsure of official vitamin D advice, I recommend a combined approach to boost a child’s vitamin D status, through supplementation, safe sun exposure and eating foods high in vitamin D, such as oily fish, eggs and Growing Up Milk.”

The Cow & Gate Growing Up Milk survey found that 41% of HCPs are not confident discussing the role of vitamin D with parents of toddlers. This may explain why less than half of the HCPs surveyed routinely raised the issue of vitamin D supplementation with parents and carers of under fives[vi], despite 65% of HCPs admitting they had received more enquiries about vitamin D in the last 12 months[vii].

Foods fortified with vitamin D can offer a simple and convenient solution. For example, two beakers (150ml) of Cow & Gate Growing Up Milk provides more than 70% of the daily toddler recommendation, whilst other products such as breakfast cereals and margarines fortified with vitamin D contain much lower levels (less than 20%3). Yet, only 28% of HCPs discuss fortified milks for toddlers with parents1.

Vitamin D is essential for the development of bones and teeth, particularly during the important early years. British children’s vitamin D-poor diets2, combined with a low uptake of supplements, a lack of knowledge amongst parents about their specific nutritional needs, and HCPs not discussing the role of vitamin D with parents, could be putting the future health of today’s toddlers at risk.

Dr Carrie Ruxton recommends a simple, combined approach parents can take to ensure toddlers are meeting their vitamin D needs:

  • Give your child a daily children’s supplement of vitamins A, C and D
  • Offer fortified foods, for example giving two 150ml beakers of Growing Up Milk daily would provide around 70% of the recommended vitamin D level for toddlers
  • Include natural food sources of vitamin D in the diet. For example, oily fish once a week plus eggs, red meat or liver as regular meal options.
  • Enjoying the summer (April-Oct) sun safely, while taking care not to burn. Just 15 minutes daily without suncream is enough for the body to make sufficient levels of vitamin D.

All toddlers are vulnerable to low vitamin D levels in the diet, whilst those who rarely play outside, don’t eat oily fish, don’t take supplements, or who have darker skins[viii] or cover up for cultural reasons are thought to be particularly at risk.

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