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Kids Need Vitamin D – Can It Be Gotten Safely From Sunlight

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, and in the UK from around late March/early April to the end of September we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight exposure**. Find out how to get enough without risking sun damage.

We need vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

A lack of vitamin D – known as vitamin D deficiency – can cause bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities. In children, for example, a lack of vitamin D can lead to rickets. In adults, it can lead to osteomalacia, which causes bone pain and tenderness.

How do we get vitamin D?

Our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin when we are outdoors. From about late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight.

We also get some vitamin D from a small number of foods, including oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, as well as red meat and eggs.

Vitamin D is also added to all infant formula milk, as well as some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and non-dairy milk alternatives.

The amounts added to these products can vary and may only be added in small amounts. Manufacturers must by law add vitamin D to infant formula milk.

Another source of vitamin D is dietary supplements.

How long should we spend in the sun?

Most people (in the UK**) can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods with their forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen from late March or early April to the end of September, especially from 11am to 3pm.

It’s not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D to meet the body’s requirements. This is because there are a number of factors that can affect how vitamin D is made, such as your skin colour or how much skin you have exposed. But you should be careful not to burn in the sun, so take care to cover up, or protect your skin with sunscreen, before your skin starts to turn red or burn.

People with dark skin, such as those of African, African-Caribbean or south Asian origin, will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D as someone with lighter skin.

How long it takes for your skin to go red or burn varies from person to person. Cancer Research UK has a useful tool where you can find out your skin type, to see when you might be at risk of burning.

Your body can’t make vitamin D if you are sitting indoors by a sunny window because ultraviolet B (UVB) rays (the ones your body needs to make vitamin D) can’t get through the glass.

The longer you stay in the sun, especially for prolonged periods without sun protection, the greater your risk of skin cancer.

If you plan to be out in the sun for long, cover up with suitable clothing, wrap-around sunglasses, seeking shade and applying at least SPF15 sunscreen.

Winter sunlight

In the UK, sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation in winter (October to early March) for our skin to be able to make vitamin D.

During these months, we rely on getting our vitamin D from food sources (including fortified foods) and supplements.

Using sunbeds is not a recommended way of making vitamin D.

Babies and children

Children aged under six months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight.

From March to October in the UK**, children should:

  • cover up with suitable clothing, including wearing a hat and wearing wrap-around sunglasses
  • spend time in the shade (particularly from 11am to 3pm)
  • wear at least SPF15 sunscreen

To ensure they get enough vitamin D, babies and children aged under five years should be given vitamin D supplements even if they do get out in the sun. Find out about vitamin D supplements for children.

Who should take Vitamin D supplements?

Some groups of the population are at greater risk of not getting enough vitamin D, and the Department of Health recommends that these people should take daily vitamin D supplements, to make sure they get enough.

These groups are**:

  • all babies from birth to one year of age (including breastfed babies and formula fed babies who have less than 500ml a day of infant formula)
  • all children aged one to four years old
  • people who are not often exposed to the sun – for example, people who are frail or housebound, or are in an institution such as a care home, or if they usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors

For the rest of the population, everyone over the age of five years (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) is advised to consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (μg) of vitamin D.

But the majority of people aged five years and above will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the summer (late March/early April to the end of September), so you might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.

Find out more about who should take vitamin D supplements and how much to take.

You can get vitamin supplements containing vitamin D free of charge if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a child under four years of age and qualify for the Healthy Start scheme.

You can also buy single vitamin supplements or vitamin drops containing vitamin D for babies and young children at most pharmacies and larger supermarkets.

Speak to your pharmacist, GP or health visitor if you are unsure whether you need to take a vitamin D supplement or don’t know what supplements to take.

Can you have too much vitamin D?

If you choose to take vitamin D supplements, 10μg a day will be enough for most people.

People who take supplements are advised not to take more than 100μg of vitamin D a day, as it could be harmful (100 micrograms is equal to 0.1 milligrams). This applies to adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly, and children aged 11-17 years.

Children aged one to 10 years should not have more than 50μg a day. Babies under 12 months should not have more than 25μg a day.

Some people have medical conditions that mean they may not be able to take as much vitamin D safely. If in doubt, you should talk to your doctor. If your doctor has recommended you take a different amount of vitamin D, you should follow their advice.

The amount of vitamin D contained in supplements is sometimes expressed in international units (IU) where 40 IU is equal to one microgram (1µg) of vitamin D.

There is no risk of your body making too much vitamin D from sun exposure, but always remember to cover up or protect your skin before the time it takes you to start turning red or burn.

Editor’s Note:

** U.S. Resources:

NHS Choices logo


From www.nhs.uk

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Misinformation and Food Allergies: How to Keep Your Family Safe

Having a food allergy diagnosis can be quite overwhelming but coming across information that is misleading can be deadly. With so many factors on what to do, what not to do, who to listen to and what will keep your allergic triggers from worsening, we all have enough on our plates to begin with. The challenge of weeding through different experiences often finds us asking for simple answers.

Before you give in, ask yourself if the guidance that you are given is right for you. If something just doesn’t seem to add up, it probably doesn’t.

And, although many of us are now considering multiple options about how to handle our food allergies, there will always be those who can steer you in the wrong direction.

First, let’s clarify some food allergy statistics from a reliable source F.A.A.C.T. (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team) –

  • Food allergies affect approximately 15 million Americans, including 6 million children.
  • A food allergy is an immune system response to a food the body mistakenly believes is harmful.
  • When a person with food allergy eats the food, his or her immune system releases massive amounts of chemicals, including histamine, that trigger a cascade of symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal tract, the skin, and/or the cardiovascular system.
  • There is no cure for food allergies.
  • The prevalence of food allergies appears to be increasing among children under the age of 18, that is 2 students in every classroom.
  • Although food allergy desensitizations are being studied, these are not yet proven treatments, so strict avoidance is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.
  • Managing a food allergy on a daily basis involves constant vigilance.
  • Trace amounts of an allergen can trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals.
  • Unfortunately, food allergy deaths do occur, even among persons with a history of mild reactions in the past.
  • 9-1-1 must ALWAYS be called with every anaphylactic reaction

(view the full graphic here)

These are all facts about food allergies. When someone eats a food that they are allergic to, it causes an anaphylactic reaction. The only known treatment for an anaphylactic reaction is epinephrine. The reason I am sharing these facts? I recently came across an article that offered “10 Home Remedies for Getting Quick Relief from Food Allergy”. This article offered tips that may very well become the cause of someone with food allergies getting hurt, sick or dying. Although allergic symptoms can vary from one person to another, ensuring the proper treatment is crucial to everyone. To clarify, let me share a few tips that are absolutely not what you should do to treat a food allergy or an allergic reaction.

  • Drink a specific juice mixture daily to improve your immunity and to keep your allergies from acting up. FALSE. If you want to improve your immunity or even try to boost your overall health, this would be perfect (as long as you are not allergic to the juices) but this will not prevent or treat a food allergy.
  • Taking vitamin E or castor oil will prevent an allergic reaction. FALSE. The only known prevention for a food allergy is to NOT consume the foods that you are allergic to.
  • Use supplements to keep your digestive tract healthy, which will heal your food allergies. FALSE. Again, an allergic reaction is when your body is reacting to an offending food and not because you have gastrointestinal issues.

Be Cautious But Expect Mishaps In simple terms, you will make mistakes, it happens. The important thing to remember is to learn from that mistake to avoid it the next time and to forgive yourself for doing it. Living with food allergies is a lifestyle change. There are many things to consider, many new methods of everyday life that need tweaking and some days will be easier than others.

The key is to seek out well known, reputable food allergy support groups and non-profits that partner with Medical Doctors.

Most importantly, your life is precious – don’t let it be harmed when it can be improved.

How to Boost Your Child’s Bones for Lifelong Health

Children’s bones keep growing throughout childhood. They grow fastest of all very early in life and when children go through puberty.

The bones keep getting denser until they reach what’s known as “peak bone mass”. This usually happens between the ages of 18 and 25.

boost-your-childs-bone-healthThe denser your child’s bones are at the time of peak bone mass, the greater their reserves of bone to protect against the fragile bone disease osteoporosis later in life.

“The reserve of bone you establish during childhood and the teenage years is with you through early adulthood,” explains Dr Paul Arundel, a consultant in paediatric metabolic bone disease at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. “We all start to lose bone mass later in life. If you are starting from a low baseline you are more likely to develop osteoporosis sooner.”

The good news is that you can protect your child’s bone health with some simple lifestyle measures.

Your Child’s Bone-friendly Diet

Building strong bones in childhood requires a range of vitamins and minerals. A healthy, balanced diet will provide this. That means a diet that includes:

  • fruit and vegetables – at least five portions every day (but no more than one 150ml – *about 5 oz – glass of fruit juice)
  • carbohydrates – such as potatoes, pasta, rice and bread (preferably wholegrain)
  • protein – such as meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds
  • dairy products – such as milk, cheese and yoghurts

There are a couple of nutrients that are particularly important for building strong healthy bones.

Calcium for Healthy Bones

Our bodies contain about 1kg (*about 2.2 lbs) of calcium. About 99% of this is found in our bones and teeth – it’s what makes them strong and hard. Most of this calcium is laid down during childhood and the teenage years.

Calcium is particularly vital during puberty when the bones grow quicker than at any other time. Puberty takes place over a number of years, typically sometime between 11 to 15 for girls and 12 to 16 for boys.

The recommended calcium intake for children and young people aged from 11 to 18 is 800-1,000mg compared with 700mg for adults. But research shows that, on average, children and young people in this age group don’t get enough.

“Teens need more calcium because they’re growing,” says Dr Arundel. “People don’t think about bone health in teenagers as much as they do with toddlers, but teenagers are growing a lot more.”

Foods that contain lots of calcium include dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, but also tinned sardines (with the bones in), green, leafy vegetables (but not spinach), peas, dried figs, nuts, seeds and anything that’s fortified with calcium, including some soya milks.

Vitamin D for Kids’ Bone Health

Vitamin D is important for bones because it helps our bodies to absorb calcium.

Our main source of vitamin D is sunlight. Vitamin D is made by our skin when it’s exposed to sunlight during the summer months (late March/April to the end of September).

There are only a few foods that are a good source of vitamin D. These include oily fish, eggs and foods that have been fortified with vitamin D, such as fat spreads and some breakfast cereals. Read Food for strong bones.

To ensure they get enough vitamin D, the following groups should take daily vitamin D supplements, to make sure they get enough (*US recommendations are similar – click here):

  • All babies from birth to one year of age (including breastfed babies and formula fed babies who have less than 500ml a day of infant formula)
  • All children aged one to four years old

Everyone over the age of five years is advised to consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D.

But most people aged five years and above will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the summer (late March/early April to the end of September), so you might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.

It’s important never to let your child’s skin go red or start to burn. Babies under six months should never go in direct sunlight. Find out how to get vitamin D from sunlight safely.

Find out more about who should take vitamin D supplements and how much to take.

If you receive benefits, you may be eligible for free Healthy Start vitamins, which contain vitamin D. Your health visitor can tell you more, or you can visit the Healthy Start website.

Bone-strengthening Exercises for Children

Daily physical activity is important for children’s health and development, including their bone health.

Try not to let your child be sedentary for long periods. You can do this by reducing the amount of time they spend sitting down, for example, watching TV or playing video games.

Children under five who aren’t yet walking should be encouraged to play actively on the floor. Children who can walk on their own should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (three hours) spread throughout the day. This should include some bone-strengthening activities, such as climbing and jumping.

Children aged five to 18 need at least 60 minutes (one hour) of physical activity every day, which should include moderate-intensity activity, such as cycling and playground games.

To strengthen muscles and bones, vigorous-intensity activities should be included at least three times a week. This could be swinging on playground equipment, sports such as gymnastics or tennis, or hopping and skipping.

See 10 ways to get active with your kids.

Eating Disorders and Bone Health

Eating disorders affect people of all ages, both male and female. But girls and women are more likely to be affected and anorexia most commonly develops in the teenage years.

The bones are still growing and strengthening at this time and eating disorders like anorexia can affect their development. Low body weight can lower oestrogen levels, which may reduce bone density. Poor nutrition and reduced muscle strength caused by eating disorders can also lower bone density.

If your teenage child has anorexia or another eating disorder, it’s important to seek medical advice about their bone health.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.





How to Avoid Your Child’s Advertising-Fueled Nag Factor

I’ll admit it—the first brand name my son recognized was Starbucks. This probably says something about the coffee habits in our family. However, it also says something about the advertising and branded world we live in. At the time of this recognition my son was about 2 or 2.5 years old. It just goes to show how powerful branded messages and advertising are for even the youngest members of our society.

After reading this disturbing article that explained that the 0-3 year old age range is now the prime target for advertisers, I started to delve more into the research on advertising to children.

kids advertising and the nag factorWhat I found was not encouraging. It seems clear that advertisers focus a lot of their time and money on ads for food products targeted to kids, most of which are quite unhealthy. A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that advertising on children’s television (aimed at kids under age 12) had the highest proportion of food ads (50% of all ads) compared to all other genres of TV. What types of foods do these ads promote? Much like you might expect, these food ads targeted toward children primarily focus on candy and snacks (34%), cereal (28%), and fast food (10%).

Unfortunately, this type of advertising works. Studies show that children who watch more ads for food products on television are much more likely to prefer unhealthy foods when offered a choice.

So why is this advertising to children so effective? One factor, of course, is the advertisers are smart—they have harnessed the knowledge of psychology and marketing to be able to market products (especially food) to children in just the right way to make it very appealing to little minds.

Additionally, as we all know, children are relatively impressionable. Young children, in particular, have very little power to resist advertising when they see it. They do not yet have the skills to understand the advertisers’ persuasive tactics.

Lastly, and perhaps most disturbing, advertisers are aware of and have harnessed the power of “the nag factor.” We all know what that means. Kids nag their parents incessantly for products that they’ve seen advertised, usually on TV. One recent study looked at the “nag factor” and found that kids who are more familiar with commercial television characters are more likely to nag their parents for the products associated with those characters.

For me, one of the most problematic aspects of all this advertising to children is that the advertisers are really trying to indoctrinate kids into the idea that life should be all about purchasing and getting material things.

The good news is that parents are not helpless in this battle with advertisers for their children’s minds (and stomachs). Although advertising, particularly related to food items, is very persuasive to children, parents can be quite persuasive too as long as they promote a constant message of healthy food choices.

In a new study just published, several researchers considered the role of parents’ messages in the food choices made by children ages 3-5 just after watching advertising for food products. In one part of the study, children watched a commercial for French fries and were then given the option to choose French fries or a healthier food option for a snack. Parents looked on and one group was told to encourage their children to make the healthier choice, while the other group of parents was told to remain neutral about the food choice. When parents remained neutral, 71% of the children chose the French fries over the healthy option. However, when parents encouraged a healthier choice, the percentage of kids choosing French fries dropped to 55%. While this is not a dramatic drop, it does show that parental influence does have power, even in light of direct advertising for unhealthy products.

I think it’s unlikely that this type of marketing will end or even slow down, but this research offers encouragement that we as parents can influence good choices by our children, as long as we adhere to a clear, consistent message. It is obvious that advertising has a strong impact on children, so limiting children’s exposure to commercials will most likely make your children’s choices better in the long run and perhaps your life a little easier as a parent (e.g., less nagging).

Additionally, as children get older, I could see it being helpful to explain to them how advertisers play their game. If kids can understand why and how advertising is so persuasive, they might be more likely to resist it.

With my older son, I have begun explaining how some things we see on TV or the internet are a “trick.” The people making the product are trying to “trick” us into spending money on something that is either unhealthy or useless (like a junky toy). I have been reminding him of times when he bought a cheap toy and was bored with it after a day or two. These lessons are starting to sink in but it is an ongoing battle with advertising.

Here are some good resources available for helping kids learn media literacy:

 

How to Help Your Underweight Teen Boy Get Healthy

Are you worried about being underweight? Or perhaps your friends or parents have mentioned it.

You may have friends who are taller, heavier and more muscular than you. We all grow and develop at different rates. Lots of boys don’t reach their adult weight until they are over 18.

You can check whether you’re a healthy weight by using our healthy weight calculator. If you are underweight, your GP (*pediatrician), practice nurse or school nurse can give you help and advice.

underweight-teen-boysThere may be an underlying medical cause for your low weight that needs to be checked out. Gut problems like coeliac disease, for example, can make people lose weight.

Read about other medical problems that can cause unexplained weight loss.

Maybe you’re having mental or emotional problems that have affected your eating habits. Depression and anxiety, for example, can both make you lose weight.

Or perhaps you haven’t been eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Whatever the situation, if you’re concerned about your weight or your diet, the best thing to do is tell someone. There’s a lot that can be done to help.

Why Being a Healthy Weight Matters

Being underweight can leave you with no energy and affect your immune system, meaning you could pick up colds and other infections more easily.

If your diet is poor, you may also be missing out on vitamins and minerals you need to grow and develop.

The good news is that, with a little help, you can gradually gain weight until you get to a weight that is healthy for your height and age.

Healthy Diet for Teen Boys

It’s important that you gain weight in a healthy way. Try not to go for chocolate, cakes, fizzy drinks and other foods high in fat or sugar. Eating these types of foods too often is likely to increase your body fat, rather than building strong bones and muscles.

Instead, aim to eat three meals and three snacks a day. You should be having:

  • Plenty of starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes (choose wholegrain versions or potatoes with their skins on if you can)
  • At least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
  • Some milk and dairy food

We all need some fat in our diet, but it’s important to keep an eye on the amount and type of fat we’re eating. Try to cut down on the amount of saturated fat you eat  that’s the fat found in sausages, salami, pies, hard cheese, cream, butter, cakes and biscuits.

Cut down on sugary foods, such as chocolate, sweets, cakes, biscuits and sugary soft drinks.

Strength training can also help to build strong muscles and bones. Find out how to increase your strength and flexibility.

Boost Your Calories

To bump up your energy intake in a healthy way, try these tips:

  • Make time for breakfast. Try porridge made with semi-skimmed (*1% or 2% milk) milk and sprinkle some chopped fruit or raisins on top. Or how about eggs on toast with some grilled tomatoes or mushrooms?
  • Crumpets, bananas or unsalted nuts all make good snacks.
  • A jacket (*baked) potato with baked beans or tuna on top makes a healthy lunch and contains both energy-rich carbohydrates and protein. Adding cheese will provide calcium.
  • Try yoghurts and milky puddings, such as rice pudding.
  • Have a healthy snack before bed. Cereal with semi-skimmed milk is a good choice (choose a cereal that is lower in sugar), or some toast.

Find out how many calories the average teenager needs.

You should also make sure you get plenty of sleep. About 8 to 10 hours a day is ideal for teenagers. Avoid smoking and alcohol.

Teen Boys and Eating Disorders

Sometimes there can be other issues that stop you from eating a healthy diet.

If you feel anxious when you think about food, or you feel you may be using control over food to help you cope with stress, low self-esteem or a difficult time at home or school, then you may have an eating disorder.

People with eating disorders often say they feel that their eating habits help them keep control of their lives. But that’s an illusion: it’s not them who are in control, but the eating disorder.

If you feel you may have an eating disorder, help is available.

Tell someone: ideally your parents, guardians or another adult you trust.

The eating disorders charity b-eat has a Youthline, where you can get advice.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.





Babies Should Get Peanuts Early to Cut Allergy Risk

New guidelines issued yesterday by experts from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend introducing peanut-containing foods to babies as early as possible as a way to lower their risk of developing a peanut allergy.

The recommendations reverse previous advice to add peanuts later, but are driven by new scientific research that showed early introduction of peanuts could cut allergy development by 81%. The guidelines are tailored for a child’s risk for peanut allergy, as follows:

  • babies should get peanuts earlyInfants at HIGH risk for peanut allergy (have severe eczema, egg allergy or both)
    • Add peanut-containing foods as early as 4 to 6 months
    • Consult with health care provider prior to adding peanuts – specialized testing may be needed
  • Infants with mild or moderate eczema
    • Add peanut-containing foods around 6 months
  • Infants without eczema or any food allergy
    • Add peanuts to infant diet as appropriate/desired
  • IN ALL CASES, start babies on other solids before adding peanut-containing foods

If you have specific questions or concerns about introducing your child to peanuts, speak to your pediatrician or family doctor.

 

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