Major Increase in Vitamin D Deficiency in Kids Due to COVID Lockdowns?

During the pandemic, there was a significant increase in vitamin D deficiency in pediatric patients with major depressive disorder, in new findings that suggest spending more time indoors may have fueled this uptick.

“We suspect that this may be due to the COVID lockdowns and kids schooling from home and having less time outside,” study investigator Oluwatomiwa Babade, MD, MPH, with Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke, Virginia, told Medscape Medical News.

The study was presented at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2023 Annual Meeting.

Anecdotal Observation Confirmed

During the pandemic, investigators noticed an uptick in the number of children and adolescents attending their clinic for psychiatric hospitalization who had low vitamin D levels.

To investigate, they analyzed the records of all patients aged 6-17 years with psychiatric diagnoses and vitamin D level assessment who were admitted into the inpatient psychiatry unit from March 18, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

Among 599 unique patients, 275 (83% female) had a diagnosis of MDD and 226 of these patients were vitamin D deficient (< 30 ng/mL) — a prevalence rate of roughly 82%. Among 246 patients with psychiatric disorders other than MDD, the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was 76%.

“This was very surprising and much higher than prior to the pandemic. Prior to COVID, the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was around 14% in similar patients,” Babade told Medscape Medical News.

“Now that we are post-lockdown, it would be good to repeat the study. I think the prevalence should drop. That’s my guess,” he added.

Important Research, No Surprises

Reached for comment, Cemre Robinson, MD, director of the Mount Sinai Pediatric Bone Health and Calcium Metabolism Clinic in New York City, said that although the study’s findings aren’t surprising, “it’s important to present such data in adolescents with major depression.”

“These findings reiterate the importance of screening for vitamin D deficiency in children and adolescents, with or without depression, particularly during winter, which is associated with less sun exposure,” Robinson, assistant professor of pediatrics, endocrinology, and diabetes at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Medscape Medical News.

She noted that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in the general population, and it can be easily corrected with supplementation.

“Vitamin D is important for bone growth, mineralization, and accretion as well as calcium absorption. Adolescence, in particular, is a period of rapid physical, cognitive, and psychosocial growth,” Robinson said.

“The requirement of all minerals and vitamins changes in this phase of life. Therefore, it is important to have sufficient vitamin D levels during adolescence for several health benefits,” she noted.

Robinson said that “more research is needed to validate the present findings in adolescents with major depression, and larger studies, including randomized control trials, are required to establish a causal association between MDD and vitamin D deficiency.”

The study had no specific funding. Babade and Robinson report no relevant financial relationships.

American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2023 Annual Meeting: Poster P06-029. Presented May 22, 2023.

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