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Great Lakes Region Most Vitamin D Deficient

Gray skies, more often than not, accompany winter days in Central Ohio. While the lack of sunshine can stamp out one's good mood, it can also have potential health risks. WOSU reports area doctors say the Great Lakes region is among the most vitamin D deficient in the country.

We who live in Central Ohio may not like the near constant cloud cover between November and March, but most of us have accepted it as a part of Great Lake life. But research shows people living in Midwestern states have a greater chance of being vitamin D deficient.

Vitamin D is closely linked to bone health but it helps the body in several ways.

Doctor Bob Murray directs the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Children's Hospital. Murray said vitamin D is associated with helping prevent certain cancers like colon, breast, prostate and pancreatic. And a lack of vitamin D is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

"These are the kind of things that if you kept enough vitamin D in your daily diet that you would get some great benefits on," Murray said.

The body can produce its own vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight for just 15 or 20 minutes a day. But because of the risk of skin cancer sunscreen is used more than ever, even on cloudy days. Murray said people with dark skin tones or for those with cultural or religious strictures against exposed skin are even more prone to vitamin D deficiency.

"Here in Central Ohio we have an enlarging Somali population, and Somali women generally stay very covered and have dark skin on top of that, and they would be at the highest risk for developing vitamin D deficiency for those reasons," he said.

Murray said some studies show as many as 75 percent of teenagers and about half of pregnant women do not get adequate levels of vitamin D. Lori Mooney is a registered dietitian. She says about 20 percent of children between ages one and 11 do not get enough vitamin D. But Mooney stopped short of calling the problem an epidemic.

"We're lacking some areas of research in that area to actually make that statement, but I can say to an even looser measure that almost 90 percent of the black children in that same age group I mentioned, one to 11, and somewhere around 80 percent of Hispanic kids could be vitamin D deficient, which are very high numbers," she said.

Doctor Murray also was hesitant about the use of the term epidemic. And he has a theory for the deficiency.

"The definition of deficiency is changing. Researchers now are looking for the population to have more vitamin D in their diet, and they're finding fewer and fewer in the population are achieving that level. And that's why we're seeing deficiency being so high," Murray said.

For Mooney, the bottom line is simple.

"We're not drinking enough milk anymore."

She said with so many other beverages available dairy intake has declined.

"If you think about when you and I were younger our main drinks included milk that we had on a regular basis. Now kids not only are drinking a lot of pop, but they also have all these other beverages, fitness drinks, Gatorade-type products, those kinds of things that they're drinking in large prevalence. And they're so available," Mooney said.

And breastfeeding, encouraged by a majority of physicians and health officials, can actually attribute to vitamin D deficiency. Murray said there's a resurgence of rickets - the softening or weakening of the bones in children.

"As people are breastfeeding longer and more exclusively if they're not supplementing, or if the child is covered up a good part of the time. That's especially true if the mother is breastfeeding the child and the mother is vitamin D deficient," he said.

Murray said the best option people have is to take a vitamin supplement. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics doubled the recommended supplemental dosage for children to 400 I.U.s or international units. Most adults should get between 400 and 800 I.U.s. The elderly should take closer to 1,000 I.U.s.