According to two new studies published in the journal Pediatrics this week, 10-15 minutes of sunshine each day could help prevent today's children from developing life-threatening diseases.
I know what some of you are thinking: Don't our kids get enough time to play? Sadly, it's now the case that outdoor, unstructured play is on the decline and that our nation's children are participating in increasingly dangerous levels of sedentary activities. Not only has this led to an epidemic of obesity, heart disease and diabetes amongst youth, but we have now found that it's also led to hazardous deficiencies in Vitamin D in this same population.
With unfettered exposure to sunlight the human body will produce Vitamin D, a nutrient necessary for proper, healthy development. Beyond the risk of developing weak bones and even rickets, not getting enough Vitamin D often goes hand-in-hand with higher blood pressure and lower levels of good cholesterol, and may increase a child's risk of developing heart disease later in life, experts say.
Shockingly, 70 percent of American kids aren't getting enough vitamin D. About 7.6 million children, adolescents and young adults have Vitamin D levels so low they could be considered deficient. An additional 50.8 million have higher levels of the vitamin in their system, but at levels still low enough to be insufficient.
High levels of sedentary, indoor activities amongst our children have certainly contributed to this problem. "Screen time" - specifically television, DVDs, and computer use - has replaced much of the time that was previously available for outdoor play. Children under six years old spend an average of about two hours a day with screen media and youth between the ages of eight and 18 spend an average of 4-6 hours a day with screen media--more than 45 hours a week!
So what can we do to address this potentially dangerous deficiency? Get your kids outside and playing on a daily basis!
The simple act of running, jumping and swinging in the sun for just 15 minutes a day can ensure that your kids will get enough of this important vitamin. Dr. Michael F. Holick, Ph.D., a professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics at Boston University School of Medicine, and the author of "The Vitamin D Solution" states in a recent CNN.com article, "It is next to impossible to get enough vitamin D from diet, and the sun-phobic attitude has made the problem much worse."
Since 1995, KaBOOM! has worked to promote healthy, outdoor child's play by building great places to play across the United States. Recently, we developed a free, searchable directory called the KaBOOM! Playspace Finder, a user-generated too that helps individuals to enter, search for, and rate playspaces in their communities. Right now, more than 90,000 playspaces have been entered on our website. Check it out for yourself to see how easy it is for you and your kids to get out and play.
So long story short -- get your kids outside and playing to make sure they're getting enough vitamin D. They'll be having fun, getting good exercise, AND will be taking in important vitamins at the same time.
Follow Darell Hammond on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kaboom