The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions
So what went wrong? Believe it or not, the recent resurgence of rickets in America is actually the result of well-intentioned parents trying to raise healthy children by breastfeeding their babies and protecting them from the dangers of the sun.
While experts estimate that standing outside for a mere 15 minutes a day three times a week will allow the body to produce a healthy amount of vitamin D, parents are acutely aware that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Pediatricians routinely urge parents to use sunscreen on their children, and as far back as 1999, the AAP approved sunscreen for infants younger than six months. Besides a fear of sun exposure, children are often kept indoors for reasons like fear of pollution or community violence. Add in the growing amount of time kids spend indoors watching television and playing video games, and you've got a recipe for rickets.
Even without sunlight, just two cups of milk a day can provide all the vitamin D a child needs, but many children aren't getting enough.
- The first group at risk is breastfed infants, because breast milk contains just 4 percent of a baby's daily vitamin D requirement.
- The next group is toddlers who, due to lactose intolerance or other perceived health issues, are weaned to soy or rice milk, rather than cow's milk fortified with vitamin D.
- Then you've got young kids who drink fruit juice, soda, and pseudo-juice drinks made of high fructose corn syrup and water rather than the milk they need.
- The last high-risk group is dark-skinned children, particularly those living in higher latitudes. The darker a person's skin, the less sunlight it absorbs, and the farther north a person lives, the longer the winters and the less sunlight that person receives throughout the year. In fact, the majority of the children treated for rickets in the last few years were of African-American descent, and all of the affected Caucasian children lived at high latitudes.