I’m sure you know that vitamin D is important for your child’s health. As your little ones are growing rapidly at this age, vitamin D is a critical ingredient for strong bones and muscles. But did you know there is also a link between vitamin D levels and lower body fat?

A group of Canadian researchers were originally looking to confirm an earlier study about vitamin D and bone density, but while reviewing body composition scans they came across a fascinating discovery; the toddlers with the higher intake of vitamin D in their first year set their bodies up to have more muscle and less body fat at 3 years of age.

In the study, the infants were given one of four different doses of vitamin D. Data from the body composition scans showed the three higher dosages resulted in a lower body fat mass, approximately 450 grams less than the lower-dosed children. The researchers found that exercise and vitamin D intake were the two most important factors resulting in slimmer toddlers.

In Australia, over 80% of our vitamin D comes from sunlight and it is the best natural source. Children playing in the sun need to expose their face, hands and arms to the sun for at least a few minutes each day for the body to start the process of absorbing vitamin D.

The pressure to ‘slip, slop, slap’ helps to protect kids from skin cancer but a sensible balance of sun exposure and protection is important. The Cancer Council advise that only a few minutes in the sun in summer and tropical climates is enough to absorb your daily dose of vitamin D, while in winter you need to aim for around 2-3 hours each week. Due to high levels of melanin in their skin, darker-skinned kids will need to be out for 3 to 6 times the amounts listed.

Although babies build up a store of vitamin D from their mother during gestation, breastmilk contains very low levels of vitamin D so babies who are breastfed by mothers with low levels may not have enough to tide them over during their first year, meaning your little one may need early supplementation.

If you are concerned that you or your child may have low vitamin D levels ask your dietitian for an assessment.