Babies and children * Healthy living * Weight loss

Low vitamin D linked to increased risk of diabetes in children

Low vitamin D linked to increased risk of diabetes in children Higher levels of insulin resistance

Obese children with low levels of vitamin D may be more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to research.

A study found that obese children with low levels of vitamin D had higher levels of insulin resistance, a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin, which is needed to lower blood sugar levels, or when the body's cells become less responsive to the hormone.

In the study, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center measured vitamin D levels in 411 obese children and 87 others of a normal weight, aged between six and 16.

They also measured blood sugar levels, insulin levels, blood pressure and body mass index (BMI).

Participants in the study were questioned about their diet including their daily consumption of fizzy drinks, juice and milk, fruits and vegetables, and whether or not they routinely skipped breakfast.

The study found that those who were obese were more than three times more likely to be deficient in vitamin D compared with the non-obese children.

Low vitamin D levels and obesity were also associated with higher degrees of insulin resistance, and other risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

However, the obese children also had more unhealthy diets and were more likely to skip breakfast and consume more fizzy drinks and juices, which could also contribute to low vitamin D levels.

Although the findings suggest a link between vitamin D and type 2 diabetes, it's exact role in the development of the disease is still unclear, the researchers said.

Dr Micah Olson, who led the study, said: "Our study found that obese children with lower vitamin D levels had higher degrees of insulin resistance.

"Although our study cannot prove causation, it does suggest that low vitamin D levels may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes."

Around 90 per cent of vitamin D is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. The so-called sunshine vitamin is essential for healthy bones and teeth.

Dietary sources of vitamin D include fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, eggs and fortified milk and cereal.

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said the study, "adds to growing evidence of a link between low levels of vitamin D."

He continued: "The exact causes of vitamin D deficiency and its role in the development of Type 2 diabetes are still unclear.

"Diabetes UK is currently funding research at the University of Glasgow to help establish if people with Type 2 diabetes might benefit from vitamin D supplementation.

"Until we know more, it is not possible to recommend vitamin D supplements to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and people should not see this as an easy fix.

"Maintaining a healthy weight by keeping to a healthy diet and undertaking regular physical activity is still the best way to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes."

The study findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

This article was published on Tue 6 December 2011

Image © Tomo Jesenicnik -

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