It's a question we get asked at pretty much every workshop or speaking event.
"Should I give my child a vitamin supplement?".
As always. our advice is not prescriptive and ultimately it is up to you. But here are the facts for you to make your own decision.
It sounds a bit far-fetched in a westernised society but sadly rickets is making a comeback. In Southampton 2010, Professor Clarke (Orthopaedic Surgeon) assessed 200 randomly selected children and found that 20% required intervention. Prof. Clarke commented:
“In my 22 years at Southampton General Hospital, this is a completely new occurrence in the south that has evolved over the last 12 to 24 months and we are seeing cases across the board, from areas of deprivation up to the middle classes, so there is a real need to get national attention focused on the dangers this presents”.
Many parents are aware of the importance of calcium in their child’s diet in order to maintain healthy bones. However, without Vitamin D, calcium can’t be absorbed from the digestive tract and used. In other words, you can eat plenty of calcium but without vitamin D, your body can't use it.
The Department of Health recommend that all children from six months to five years old should be given supplements in the form of vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D (DoH, Feb 2012). But....if your child is on more than 500ml formula milk then they don’t need a vitamin drop, as formulas are fortified with these. If you are breastfeeding and didn’t take a vitamin D supplement during pregnancy then you may be advised by your health visitor to give your child a vitamin drop from the age of 1 month.
Sources of Vitamin D
The best source of vitamin D is the sunshine bouncing off your little one’s skin as they play outdoors. Continue to take the necessary precautions of using sunscreen and cover up appropriately before your child shows any signs of burning.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it can be stored in the liver and fatty tissues so it doesn’t need to be eaten as often as water-soluble vitamins - this is why you only hear the term 5-a day applied to fruit and veg rather than to steak or fish. Vitamin D is, however, quite hard to come by and only occurs naturally in a few foods:
- oily fish (salmon, tuna and mackerel)
- egg yolks
- certain brands of fat-spreads, breakfast cereals
Sadly, Vitamin D isn’t present in the foods many children seem to be drawn to, such as sausage, beans and chips!
In an age where pre-packaged meals are prevailing over home-cooked dinners and there is a dependence on technology (e.g. ipod apps and children’s 24 hour TV channels), in our experience, many children dictate to their parents which foods they will and won’t eat, thereby limiting their diet. It is therefore easy to see how Vitamin D deficiency can easily occur in any child.
Your health visitor or GP can give you advice on vitamin drops and tell you where to get them. You’re entitled to free vitamin drops if you qualify for Healthy Start.
Some parents choose not to give their child vitamin drops based on the belief that their child should gain all the vitamins and minerals from eating real foods. For some parents, giving the vitamin drop just ticks that box to be sure their child has consumed all the necessary vitamins and minerals for the day and they can relax around mealtimes and not stress that their little one hasn't eaten the broccoli.
For more information around vitamin drops see our latest book Yummy Discoveries: Worry-free Weaning.
BBC News, 'Increase in rickets in Southampton astonishes doctors', 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-11741262, accessed 20 Nov 2013.
Department of Health, 'Vitamin D - advice on supplements for at risk groups', 2012, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/213703/dh_132508.df, accessed 9 March 2014.