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Health Team

Sunshine can help avoid heart, bone problems

Posted August 10, 2009 12:14 p.m. EDT
Updated August 10, 2009 7:58 p.m. EDT

Regular, short doses of sunshine could help millions of children with low levels of vitamin D who are at higher risk of developing heart and bone problems.

Seven in 10 American children from toddlers to teens don't get enough vitamin D. That deficiency results in weakened bones and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, according to two new studies in the journal Pediatrics.

Doctors said a vitamin D deficiency led to Stephanie Mitzner, a young cross-country runner, suffering three stress fractures.

"Some of the vitamin D-deficient children may take longer to heal their fractures or may re-fracture and have other fractures down the road," said Dr. Shevaun Doyle, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Researchers blame the problem on a number of factors, including children not getting out in the sun and not drinking enough milk.

A child would need to drink a whole quart of milk a day to get enough of the vitamin.

Other foods have vitamin D, but even one of the doctors behind the studies admits it's hard to get kids to eat them.

"Things like fish have a lot of vitamin D. I don't know about other people's kids, but my kids are not big fans of fish," said psychiatrist Dr. Michael Melamed, with Albert Einstein Medical College. "Sardines and other types of things are not so popular."

If they're not eating those foods, children's lifestyles have to change. That means leave the TV and computer screens and get outside.

Melamed recommended that light-skinned children get 10 to 15 minutes of sun a day. Children with darker complexions can need more than two hours a day.

Sunblock can limit your ability to process vitamin D, so people need small doses of sunshine, without sunscreen, every day, doctors said.