Sunshine and healthy kids

I REFER to and wholeheartedly agree with Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi’s views on vitamin D and “Putting kids in the shade” (The Star, June 22). Like him, I lament the consequences of this “shaded culture” on young children and even newborns today.

Vitamin D is also called the sunshine vitamin. Sun exposure is the cheapest and best way to boost the level of vitamin D in our blood. Basking in the sun (through walks, exercise, play or yoga) between 7am and 9 am and also after 4pm for 10 to 30 minutes is the best. This can make about 5, 000 to 10, 000 international units of vitamin D per day.

Sunburn will not occur during this short time. Darker skin, presence of clothing, winter months or old age can reduce the amount of vitamin D in our body.

Growing up in Johor Baru in a government bungalow with ample land allowed me to be outdoors for many hours, playing with friends, flying kites, climbing rambutan trees or catching fish in the nearby drains. We went to Lido Beach to walk or swim and caught catfish in the streams.

My three children who were born in Johor Baru enjoyed some of these activities during their school holidays at their grandparents’ home. When they were toddlers, I rubbed cod liver oil on their bodies and let them run around wearing only their knickers in the backyard in our Kuala Lumpur home. This would make their bones and lungs strong, my elderly neighbour, a retired nurse, told me.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. The best source is the sun because it can made in the skin. Foods which are rich in vitamin D, such as egg yolk, dairy products, fatty fish, nuts and avocado, cannot match this natural source for our daily requirement.

It is not uncommon to find levels of vitamin D to be less than 40ng/ml during routine blood screening (normal healthy levels vary according to age). This is largely due to inadequate sun exposure or malnutrition.

Also, it is not unusual to find well-dressed professional young mothers or women in hijab with low levels of vitamin D. They are at risk of having newborns with low level of calcium and presenting with neonatal seizures or tetany.

Vitamin D acts as a hormone to all cells and is particularly vital for bone and lung health. It is required for the absorption of calcium from the gut into the blood, bones, brain and all cells.

Deficiency of vitamin D leads to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults (soft and misshapen bones). This can occur in children who suffer from malnutrition or are picky eaters (as in autism) and even in normal children.

Vitamin D deficiency has also been associated with many cancers, autoimmune diseases, asthma, autism, depression (including seasonal affective disorder), heart disease, hypertension, weight gain, osteoporosis, poor immunity and more.

It has become a trend and necessity now to take vitamin D supplements instead of looking to nature as the source.

Nowadays, preschools, day care centres, nurseries and even schools are located in residential homes or shop lots with tight security and air-conditioned indoor premises. Many children have allergies and parents also do not allow them to be outdoors. It has become a sad vicious cycle. The end loser is the growing child, the future adult citizen and the nation.

It would be wonderful if the Education Department ensured that preschool and school premises have some compulsory access to outdoor areas. The human body can make its own vitamin D and children can enjoy the multiple health benefits of this free vitamin.


Paediatrician, Kuala Lumpur

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Health; Vitamin D


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