Could Vitamin D Deficiency Make Kids Fat?

Is it possible that lack of a key nutrient could actually put a child at risk for obesity? Vitamin D is important for healthy growth and development particularly of bones throughout childhood. But could a deficiency of this important nutrient affect more than just the skeleton?  A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examines the relationship between vitamin D deficiency and risk of childhood obesity. Obesity in childhood is a risk factor for adult obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

This study followed 479 school children in Bogota, Colombia, aged 5 to 12 years for about two-and-a-half years on average. They took fasting blood samples and a variety of physical measurements.  At baseline, 10 percent of the children were considered vitamin D deficient by prevailing clinical standards, and another 46 percent were considered vitamin D insufficient.

The researchers found that vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency was associated with a 0.1 point yearly increase in BMI and a substantial 0.8 cm yearly increase in waist circumference compared to vitamin D sufficiency. While these numbers may seem modest, bear in mind that they are annual figures, meaning that the effects add up over the course of childhood and can translate into significant overall body fatness. The researchers also saw slower increases in height among girls, but not boys, who were vitamin D deficient. These findings were independent of whether the children were considered thin, normal weight or overweight at the beginning of the study.

The key caveat of these findings is the old chicken and egg argument:  Were heavier kids more likely to have lower blood levels of vitamin D as the study progressed due to the tendency of this fat-soluble vitamin to be stored in body fat rather than circulating around in the bloodstream?  Or did the vitamin D deficiency actually cause the increase in body fat?  Only more research studies with different designs will be able to clear up this question for sure.

Previous studies suggest that vitamin D may influence fat mass accumulation through its influence on calcium regulation within the cells. Since calcium has been shown to influence the breakdown of fat cells and storage of fat within these cells, it is thought that vitamin D might influence Body Mass Index (BMI) and metabolism via this mechanism.  Other research suggests vitamin D status in kids can affect risk of conditions as variable as asthma attacks to the seasonal flu.

Here in the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a daily intake of 400 IU of vitamin D for infants, children and teens.  Since this important nutrient is not widely available in the food supply, many experts suggest using dietary supplements to meet vitamin D needs.  Nonetheless, some food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Fortified yogurt (6 oz.) – 80 IU
  • Fortified ready-to-eat cereals (1 cup) – 40 IU
  • Egg yolk — 25 IU
  • Fortified orange juice (1 cup) — 100 IU
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  • My 14-year old daughter has struggled with her weight for years, and was diagnosed vitamin D deficient (14ng/mL) as a 10-year-old. She also had Seasonal Affective Disorder that was severe, until her vitamin D was repleted. Now she has no depression. Although we are keeping her D levels up, she contiunes to have a hard time with weight gain, particularly around the waist. I believe there is a connection with the early Vitamin D deficiency. My husband and I were both very slim as children and as young adults and never had to watch our weight until much later in life.

  • First BMI is a joke. To use BMI in any scientific study should automatically disqualify it as a scientific study. It was something that was invented back in the 60’s or 70’s as a “scale” but then has been later refuted over and over because there is no set scale for weight to height ratio. That is complete and utter bull and anyone who lives by the BMI is basically living a lie.

  • While I do believe Vitamin D is important, it should be gotten in normal fashions, like Milk, and Eggs, and OMG! Going outside!! there is a reason why Vitamin D is called the Sunshine Vitamin. You get it from *Gasp* the Sun!!! So Basically this article is covering the fact that kids spend more time indoors than out.. and well because of that, they are getting fatter than they used to.. Big surprise there.. Parents– Kick your kids out of the house a little more! MAKE them play outside.

    • @Blargh If you live in the northern areas like michigan and wisc, you need to take the supplements as during the winter the sun angle it to low to produce D. I had mine checked and it was 1 point away from being deficient. If foolish to think you can get enough from “normal fashions”

  • A good resource is the Vitamin D Council –

    The 400 IU of Vitamin D3 recommended is a complete joke. In 15-30 minutes of full-body/full-sun exposure, the human body will produce 25,000-50,000 IU. For an adult, 2000-3000 IU are needed daily for proper calcium regulation as well as for other organs and functions.

    When you’re in the sun and making all that Vitamin D3…guess where the vitamin D3 comes from…. CHOLESTEROL! Yes…that’s right. Your body takes cholesterol, adds sunlight and turns it into vitamin D3. Some research has started to indicate that the rising levels of cholesterol in America are linked to the falling levels of vitamin D. With 90% of the cholesterol in your blood being produced by the liver so that your body can make vitamin D3, it stands to reason that high cholesterol might be your bodies way of saying it needs more vitamin D3. In the absence of sunlight, D3 does not get created and your liver keeps pumping out cholesterol desperately trying to get more D3.

    So go outside! Take a D3 supplement and have your doctor check your vitamin D levels. Few doctors do it unless requested and it has huge implications for your immune system, your bones, blood pressure, blood sugar, etc.

  • bogota is basically a halfbreed city. the genetic differences should be taken in account, making the results non universal.

  • My thoughts would be that the overweight children were already eating a diet deficient in vit D as they are consuming sugar laden rubbish, sugary drinks and snacks instead of proper food. They were also likely to avoid playing out and physical activity, hence, not developing D3 from sunlight.

  • We always followed a healthy diet and the kids got plenty of exercise; however, my daughter disliked milk, so mostly drank water. We also sunscreened the children all the time, so they were unable to make vitamin D from the sun. I think the combination of sunscreening and limited dairy led to her vitamin D deficiency. We all now take a coconut-oil based D3 drop which is 4,000/IU per drop. Very easy and almost tasteless.

  • This is such an important topic – vitamin D controls the expression of more than 2,000 genes which is about 10% of our entire genome! It’s that big of a deal! 70% of children being vitamin D deficient is a staggering number and it’s even worse among adults!
    So many people avoid the sun and use sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. What they don’t realize is that vitamin D deficiency is a cancer risk in itself!

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