(NaturalNews) Nearly 75 percent of low-income, otherwise healthy black and Hispanic children in the southern United States have insufficient blood levels of vitamin D, according to a study conducted by researchers from Emory University and published in the journal Pediatrics.
The body produces vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight. Darker skin slows down the body's production of vitamin D, however, increasing the risk of vitamin deficiency in those who do not get enough skin exposure to the sun.
Previous studies have shown high rates of vitamin D deficiency in the northern United States and Canada, but researchers wanted to see if the same problem exists in southern areas where the sun is stronger. They tested the blood levels of vitamin D in 290 black and Hispanic toddlers living in the Atlanta area. The average participant came from low-income family and was two years old.
The researchers found that 74 percent of participants had insufficient levels of vitamin D, with 22 percent suffering from outright deficiency. One percent of children in the study were deficient in calcium.
Broken down by ethnicity, 26 percent of black children were deficient in vitamin D, compared with 18 percent of Hispanic children. This difference can probably be explained by a difference in skin color and Hispanic children's greater consumption of fortified milk, the major vitamin D source for all children in the study.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in bone development and health, and also helps to regulate the immune system.
"Low vitamin D levels in U.S. adolescents are strongly associated with hypertension and hyperglycemia and metabolic syndrome, which can lead to type 2 diabetes," said nutritionist Samantha Heller, who was not involved in the study. "Parents must be informed of the need for vitamin D in children and the consequences of low vitamin D levels.
Approximately 70 percent of U.S. children do not get enough vitamin D.