Vitamin D Linked to Childhood Obesity

Michelle Obama recently announced that she plans to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation. If all goes according to her plan, childhood obesity will have dropped from the current rate of 32 percent to a rate of 5 percent by 2030. That rate of 32 percent translates to over 25 million obese children and adolescents, so a lot of attention has been given to examining the direct causes of childhood obesity, the factors that contribute, and the best ways to eliminate it altogether.

Vitamin D deficiency is a culprit that repeatedly comes up in the battle against obesity. Actually, vitamin D is not a vitamin at all.  It is a hormone precursor found in cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), which is created when sunlight containing ultraviolet light (UVB) hits bare skin long enough to turn the skin pink, but not red. That length of time varies based on skin pigmentation.

Vitamin D deficiency is particularly common among obese children and teenagers.  Unfortunately, it often remains undiagnosed and untreated. Vitamin D-deficient children suffer from chronic fatigue, decreased stamina, reduced bone strength, generalized muscle aches and pains, frequent colds, and attacks of asthma. Consequently, they exercise less frequently, which results in more weight gain, and a vicious cycle sets in.

Dr. Sarfraz Zaidi, medical expert and author of Power of Vitamin D, says there are several reasons why vitamin D deficiency has become such a problem in recent years, including sun-phobic parents who slather their children with sunscreen. He also points out that obesity contributes to vitamin D deficiency because vitamin D is fat soluble and gets trapped in fat cells,  leaving less vitamin D available for the rest of the body.

 According to Dr. Zaidi, “Obesity and vitamin D deficiency are intertwined. You treat one, the other gets treated as well. For example, if you treat vitamin D deficiency, you improve physical strength and get rid of fatigue, body aches and pains, which naturally increases your exercise level and in this way greatly helps in the treatment of obesity.”

Research by Dr. Michael F Holick (an expert in vitamin D) indicates that obese people need two to three times the amount of vitamin D needed by a normal weight individual. As a consequence, obese children and adolescents require more time outside in the sun to combat the problem.

Moreover, getting kids outside will get them off the couch, away from the TV, computer and video games, and out there moving. Playing outside and being active contribute to a lean physique, freeing up vitamin D from fat cells and allowing it to be utilized by the rest of the body. As a result, kids will stay healthier and more in control of their weight. 

Dr. Zaidi also recommends sensible sun exposure, a good calcium intake, and a daily dose of vitamin D supplement for children two months and older to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D.

The battle lines have been drawn against obesity and, with it, vitamin D deficiency. And it seems that the battlefield is outside in the sun, exposing a whole new landscape and environment for kids to explore.

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