The Importance
Of Sunshine

A new study shows a link between lack of vitamin D and weight gain and stunted growth in girls. Is your daughter getting enough of the sunshine vitamin? How can you tell?

Teenage Girl with VitaminAt those annual doctor visits, your mind races between the work you're missing, how long until you must leave to make carpool on time, remembering to get the doctor's note for your child to return to school, getting the school forms signed -- it's a wonder you can even remember your child's name when you're asked. But at your next appointment, try to remember to ask an important question: is your daughter getting enough vitamin D?

It's true that your daughter won't likely need to worry about osteoporosis (bone density loss) for many years, if at all. You're probably still a few years away from serious concerns yourself. Even so, insufficient vitamin D can have a profound effect on growing girls.

Let the sun shine

A joint research effort by Canadian scientists from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and their American colleagues at the University of Southern California determined that a lack of vitamin D caused higher body mass and shorter stature in girls at the peak of their growing spurt.

Perhaps most telling: the study was conducted in Southern CA, where the sun drenches everything in its path, and where it should be easy for girls to get enough vitamin D. And yet, the study's lead author, Richard Kremer, co-director of the Musculoskeletal Axis of the MUHC, found a "high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in young people" -- which he noted was "surprising."

What D does for you

In adults, a lack of vitamin D is fairly common. It's known to cause some types of cancers, obesity, and the aforementioned osteoporosis. But no one had looked closely at what happens to young people who aren't getting enough vitamin D. Until now.

According to Kremer, "We found young women with vitamin D insufficiency were significantly heavier, with a higher body mass index and increased abdominal fat, than young women with normal levels."

The researchers examined 90 Caucasian and Hispanic girls and discovered that young women with normal vitamin D levels were on average taller than peers deficient in vitamin D. Interestingly, in contrast to what's been previously reported in older women, their investigation found no association between lack of vitamin D and bone strength in the girls.

Simple screening

The researchers noted that older women are more likely to have their vitamin D levels monitored, thanks to the higher level of awareness in that population. Girls, on the other hand, are rarely screened, despite how simple it is to determine their risk.

The research team measured vitamin D in girls aged 16 to 22 using a simple blood test (25-hydroxy vitamin D). They also assessed body fat and height to determine how vitamin D deficiency could affect young women's health.

With the blood test, clinicians can identify at-risk teens and help them take steps to improve their health. "Lack of vitamin D can cause fat accumulation and increased risk for chronic disorders later in life," explained study co-author Dr. Vicente Gilsanz, head of musculoskeletal imaging at the Children's Hospital Los Angeles of the University of Southern California.

Better health could be as simple as a daily multivitamin. Check with your child's doctor at her next visit.

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