Vitamin deficiencies in children are a serious problem worldwide, especially in countries where it is difficult or impossible to feed a child a well-balanced diet. It’s not just third-world countries that are affected, however. Children in more than half the world’s countries suffer from a lack of vitamin A, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, a vitamin D deficiency is common for children.
Malnutrition is a leading cause of death in children worldwide, according to eMedicine. Many children, especially those in developing countries, suffer from a lack of protein, vitamins and minerals. The most common vitamin deficiency in children is vitamin A, followed by vitamin D.
Vitamin A deficiencies (VAD) are the most serious, according to the World Health Organization. VAD causes blindness, poor growth, weak hearts and hair problems in children. A lack of vitamin A also greatly increases a child’s chances of dying from a simple infection. About 70 percent of American children are lacking enough vitamin D, according to CNN. This can result in poor growth, rickets, and may even increase a child’s risk of developing diabetes or heart disease as an adult.
Breast milk is rich in both vitamins A and D, as well as a host of other nutrients, so new mothers are usually greatly encouraged to breastfeed their babies. Cow’s milk in the United States is often fortified with vitamin D. In addition, 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure per day can give a child plenty of vitamin D. Vitamin A is commonly given in capsule form to children in impoverished countries, or added to sugar or rice.
The best way to prevent vitamin deficiencies in your babies is to breastfeed them. Older children should eat foods rich in vitamin A, such as carrots, eggs, and hard cheese. Vitamin D is not found in many common foods, however. For that reason, it is often added to milk, yogurt, cereals, and even margarine.
A small minority of children are also deficient in vitamin C, although the number is diminishing, according to eMedicine. Even lower-than-normal amounts of vitamin C can hinder the body’s ability to absorb iron. This can lead to anemia, or low iron levels in the blood. Children with anemia will appear pale, frequently dizzy and tired. They may even develop a heart murmur or racing heartbeat. Iron-deficient children should be encouraged to eat foods rich in iron, such as dark green vegetables, and encouraged to eat and drink foods and juices that contain vitamin C. In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe an iron supplement.