State workgroup recommends more vitamin D for Alaskan children, pregnant women

Sep 14, 2018

The Alaska Vitamin D Workgroup recently formulated Alaska-specific vitamin D supplement recommendations. It recommends clinicians in the 49th state consider prescribing double the nationally recommended amount for breastfed infants.

Bristol Bay's cloudy, cool summer days and dark winters can make it tough to get enough vitamin D.
Credit Avery Lill/KDLG

Rickets is a condition that causes soft or weak bones in children. Usually, too little vitamin D is the cause. It’s a rare condition in the United States. About 1 in 100,0000 children is hospitalized with the condition nationally, but researchers think it occurs a lot more often in Alaska.

“During 2001 to 2010, Alaska Native children aged less than 10 years, living in Alaska, experienced almost double the rate of rickets associated hospitalization of the U.S. pediatric population aged less than 10 years,” explained Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Chief of the Alaska Section of Epidemiology, adding “We don’t have as much data that’s been reported on non-Native children, so that’s another area of research that we’d like to get more information.”

There are a number of factors that can put a child at greater risk for rickets. Among them are lack of sun exposure, darker skin and low vitamin D intake. Researchers found that younger Alaska Native people are eating less vitamin D-rich traditional foods.

“Oily fish, such as salmon, tend to be very rich in vitamin D, as well as other traditional Alaska Native foods coming from marine mammals in particular. That means that people who are consuming less traditional foods are likely taking in less vitamin D,” said McLaughlin.

A workgroup with the Alaska Division of Public Health developed Alaska-specific Vitamin D recommendations. It suggests health care providers consider doubling Vitamin D supplements for infants and more than tripling the amount prescribed for pregnant women—800 international units daily for babies and 1400 IUs for pregnant women, taking into account vitamin D already contained in infant formula and prenatal vitamins.

To be clear, these recommendations are for medical professionals prescribing supplements, not a recommendation for individuals to buy them at the grocery store or online.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.