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Findings: Half of African-American teens don’t have enough Vitamin D, “the sunshine vitamin,” which can lead to health risks
March 26, 2009, Flushing NY -- Dr. Sandy Saintonge, an attending physician at New York Hospital Queens, says a national study she recently led has found that many teenagers, especially African-American girls, have low blood vitamin D levels.
Dr. Saintonge and her colleagues analyzed data from 2,955 youths 12 to 19 years old, who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III.
The study was published in the March 2009 issue of the journal Pediatrics and has received extensive national media coverage. Dr. Saintonge, who is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and clinical public health at Weill Cornell Medical College, said that the study found that one in seven teens were vitamin D deficient, and that more than half of African-American teens were deficient in vitamin D, with girls at higher risk than boys. Low levels of vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin, may lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, immune system conditions and inflammatory problems.
Dr. Saintonge cited several factors that interfere with the amount of vitamin D the body produces, including diet, lack of sun exposure, use of sunscreen, and skin color. The main source of vitamin D is fortified milk but most teens do not drink enough to achieve adequate blood levels as per the recently revised guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Furthermore, the more pigment in the skin, the less efficient it is to produce vitamin D which puts African-Americans at special risk. The high prevalence of overweight teens in African-American communities is also a significant concern. Since vitamin D can be stored in body fat, overweight teens are more likely to have lower levels.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children get 400 international units (IU) per day, experts suspect that individuals may actually need 2,000 IU. The research team suggests that teens consider having vitamin D levels checked in the blood during physical examinations and discuss taking a multivitamin with their pediatrician or family doctor.
Dr. Saintonge advises parents to encourage their teens to eat foods rich in vitamin D such as salmon, tuna fish, eggs, fortified cereals, and fortified milk. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important. In order to minimize skin cancer risk, increased sun exposure without sunscreen is not recommended.
Dr. Saintonge completed her MD degree at Weill Cornell Medical College and then a residency in the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center Department of Pediatrics. She held several positions at New York Hospital Queens including Clinical Instructor and Director of a multidisciplinary childhood obesity program. She is board certified in Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine. Her research has included studies of vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women, adolescents, and the general U.S. population; in addition to other issues in pediatric health.
New York Hospital Queens is a member of the New York-Presbyterian Health Care System and an affiliate of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.