Yes and no. Children aged one year and older need 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. Health Canada recommends a supplement of 400 IU per day for children who do not consume cow’s milk.
Because it facilitates the absorption of calcium, vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth. For this reason, it is essential to meet the vitamin D needs of the developing child. A deficiency in this vitamin can lead to rickets, a disease that affects bone growth and can cause muscle weakness and fractures.
Food sources of vitamin D are scarce. It is added to milk, margarine, vegetable drinks and some orange and apple juices. While milk is fortified with vitamin D, dairy products (yoghurt, cheese, ice cream) contain very little. The only natural sources of vitamin D are egg yolks and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring or trout.
|Cod liver oil||15 ml||426|
|Enriched milk (1%, 2% or 3.25%)||250 ml||90|
|Enriched soy beverages||250 ml||87|
|Enriched margarine||15 ml||78|
|Enriched orange juice||250 ml||100|
|Enriched cheddar cheese||50 g||3|
|Enriched yoghurt||125 ml||51|
When exposed to sunlight, the skin has the ability to synthesize vitamin D. However, because of the risk of skin cancer, it is recommended to minimize exposure to direct sunlight, especially in children. They should be protected from the sun with clothing, hats and sunscreen. When skin is well covered, it is difficult to synthesize vitamin D. Other factors can also prevent the synthesis of vitamin D, for example dark skin color, clouds and pollution. In addition, during the 5-6 months of winter in Quebec, the sunrays are not strong enough and there is not enough exposed skin for optimal synthesis. For all these reasons, the synthesis of vitamin D from the sun cannot be considered a sufficient daily source, and the needs must be met primarily through food.
Regarding cow’s milk, it contains 90 IU of vitamin D per 250 ml. A child should consume more than 1.5 liters of milk per day in order to reach the recommendation of 600 IU which is not only unrealistic, but is more than double the recommended amount for the child, which is 750 ml of milk per day.
In summary, a supplement of 400 IU is recommended for all children whose needs of 600 IU are hardly met, that is to say during winter or in those who only consume little amounts of milk, fortified products or fatty fish.
There is no need to worry about an excessive intake of vitamin D with potential toxic effects, because the maximum intake of vitamin D per day is 2 500 IU in children aged 1 to 3 years and 3 000 IU for those aged 4 to 8 years. It is difficult to reach such amounts even when combining supplementation and dietary intake.
If in doubt, a pediatrician or nutritionist will assess the need for a supplement based on an individual intervention. It is mainly by checking vitamin D blood levels that the specialist will determine whether supplementation is necessary or not.