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Teens' vitamin D deficiency an epidemic

Those habits contributed to a vitamin D deficiency that has helped weaken the 18-year-old's bones and left him prone to fractures.// Doctors say it's an often overlooked problem that may affect millions adolescents. Often undetected and untreated, vitamin D deficiency puts them at risk for stunted growth and debilitating osteoporosis later in life.

There's even evidence that chronic deficiency may be linked with some cancers, diabetes and high blood pressure say specialists.

Youngsters with less intense year-round sunlight are especially prone to vitamin D deficiency, as are blacks and other dark-skinned ethnic groups whose pigmented skin doesn't absorb sunlight as easily as whites.

Ironically, so are kids who follow the advice of moms and doctors to slather on sunscreen to avoid skin cancer, because it can block the absorption of ultraviolet rays.

But while too much sunlight is bad, ultraviolet rays also interact with chemicals in the skin to produce vitamin D. Specialists recommends kids spend about 10 minutes a few times a week in the sun without sunscreen.

Recent research suggests as many as 20 percent of healthy children in may be vitamin D deficient. "It's really an unrecognized epidemic," say researchers.

Lifestyle habits play a role
And with today's youngsters often favoring indoor activities from Web-surfing to television, and many shunning vitamin D-fortified milk in favor of soda, specialists say it's no wonder.

One problem is that the simple blood test that detects the deficiency is rarely done unless a problem is suspected. Unfortunately, youngsters suffering from it often don't have symptoms until it has advanced to the point of causing fractures or rickets, a bone-weakening disease that doctors think may be on the rise.
v Doctors suspect that many otherwise healthy youngsters may have undetected deficiency. Those most likely to be diagnosed often have underlying chronic d iseases requiring medication that can cause bone problems that bring them to the attention of specialists.

Doctors say about half the youngsters referred to him turn out to be deficient in vitamin D, and in about a quarter of those cases, lifestyle habits contribute.

Jordan said he had no idea his habits put him at risk. Now he takes vitamin D supplements and a bone-building drug.

If the deficiency is detected early enough, before bones stop growing, vitamin D supplements can help prevent permanent damage.

Routine testing urged
Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time because youngsters are undergoing such rapid growth, their bones require large amounts of calcium, and vitamin D is needed to help the body absorb it. Thus adequate vitamin D intake is crucial from ages 10 through 18, say specialists.

"A mild form of vitamin D deficiency can be commonly unrecognized," say doctors, "but there may be ongoing damage to their skeleton."

"Now is the time to do something about it" say specialists.
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