Just last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics held its annual conference in Boston and announced that it has doubled the amount of vitamin D recommended for infants, children and adolescents.

Here's a bit of shocking news: Not all Americans eat a balanced diet.


All you have to do is look at the statistics for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer to know that something's going on. And if you belong to the school of "You Are What You Eat," then you know a person's diet can dramatically affect their health.


While I am a student of that school myself, I am by no means an expert. It's tough to keep track of how many vegetable and dairy servings my kids and I eat each day, try to drink eight glasses of water, and figure out whether or not we need supplements. Luckily, there are people who make it their life's work to study this kind of thing and can help the rest of us make decisions about our family's health.


Just last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics held its annual conference in Boston and announced that it has doubled the amount of vitamin D recommended for infants, children and adolescents. The increase, from 200 IU to 400 IU per day, from the time an infant is just a few days old, will be reported in the November issue of Pediatrics.


Vitamin D deficiency is common among all age groups throughout the world and has long been known to increase a person's risk for certain conditions, including rickets (weakening of the bones), growth failure, lethargy, irritability, respiratory infections and osteoporosis. In recent years, Type 2 diabetes, some cancers, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis have been linked to vitamin D deficiency as well.


"Four hundred IU (international units) is the amount (of Vitamin D) that is in a teaspoon of cod liver oil, which we have used for 75 years to prevent and treat rickets in children," said Dr. Frank Greer, a lead author on the report and chairman of the AAP National Committee on Nutrition.


As with many diseases and conditions, prevention is the key. Jean Sniffin, a registered nurse and public health liaison with Century Health Systems, the parent organization of the Natick (Mass.) Visiting Nurse Association, says that "most people don't think of vitamin D deficiency unless they have osteoporosis or osteopenia (weakening of the bones). But if we had done this before, they might not have osteoporosis or osteopenia."


So, what can we do to prevent vitamin D deficiency? Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D, but experts now urge people to stay out of the sun, wear sunscreen and protective clothing.


While most foods are not plentiful in vitamin D, fatty fish, certain fish oils, liver and egg yolks of chickens fed with vitamin D are. If these items are not in your family's regular diet, Sniffin suggests that you talk to your doctor and children's pediatrician to determine whether or not a supplement is appropriate.


Betsy Wadland is director of development for the Natick, Mass., VNA, a nonprofit health care organization providing home care to thousands of people throughout the region each year. For more information, call the VNA at 508-653-3081.