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A parent’s list of worries is about a million miles long, and it’s only human to be concerned about your child’s well-being. If you’re having a tough time introducing your child to new foods, you might be worried that they aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals to stay healthy.
Good news: it’s very rare for a child in America to develop a serious vitamin deficiency. It’s easy for parents to spot dietary imbalances early on and work towards introducing the family’s biggest food critic to healthier foods. So, let’s take a look at some warning signs of vitamin deficiencies in children.
Vitamin deficiency in children is common in areas of the world where children don’t have access to balanced meals and healthcare. It’s very uncommon in developed countries in the United States, and most kids get enough of the vitamins they need to ward off serious deficiencies.
However, there are some health conditions, like absorption issues, that can lead to vitamin deficiency. If a child with absorption issues is an absolute champion at eating their fruits and veggies, their body may still may not be able to absorb all of the nutrients they need from healthy foods. Situations like these are the most common reason why a child in a developed country might experience a vitamin deficiency.
If you’re concerned that your child may have a vitamin deficiency, it’s probably because you’ve noticed that they don’t seem completely healthy.
Vitamin deficiencies can manifest in different ways, and they won’t all look the same, as each vitamin plays a different role in maintaining overall health.
A vitamin A deficiency will look a lot different from a vitamin C deficiency, for example, but all deficiencies do have a few hallmarks in common.
When the human body isn’t getting everything it needs, it starts to run like its battery level is low. People with deficiencies are often tired or have less energy. In a child, you might notice this as them waking up later in the day if they once woke up at the crack of dawn and started zipping around the house.
This change in sleep habits might indicate that their energy levels are low, possibly due to a vitamin or nutrient deficiency.
It’s not unusual for kids to catch a cold, as they tend to gather germs wherever they go. But if they seem to be catching colds more often than they used to, or if it seems to be taking your child a while to rebound, take a look at their diet. The immune system needs plenty of vitamins to fortify itself, with vitamin C at the top of that list.
This is also a good time to have the hand-washing conversation again. Talk to your kids about proper hygiene and maintaining personal space to minimize the risk that they’ll get sick.
Your children know when they don’t feel right.
There will always be times that your child is “too tired” to eat dinner or “starving” for cake. Sometimes, they might even “have a headache” so they can’t do their homework.
Kids are creative, and as a parent, you can probably tell when your child is being a little dramatic to get what they want. If something is seriously wrong, you can usually spot the difference.
If your child describes feeling tingly, generally strange, unusually cold, or otherwise unwell, a vitamin deficiency can be the culprit.
If your child doesn’t have a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, the sudden appearance of dry skin can indicate a few different things. Children don’t have aging skin, so the appearance of dry or crepey skin usually means that something is up.
Skin needs water, fatty acids, and vitamins to stay healthy. If your child isn’t getting enough of these things, their skin might appear dry, flaky, or irritated. A change in diet, a few more bottles of water every day, and a little bit of hypoallergenic lotion just might do the trick — but if the dry skin is particularly persistent, it might be due to a vitamin deficiency.
It might be difficult to tell if your child is having a hard time focusing, as many children simply prefer to focus on things they find fun or interesting. It might not be immediately obvious that their lack of focus has to do with an underlying cause.
Pay attention to your child when they’re engaging in activities they usually love. Are they having a difficult time coloring or playing video games? Even if your child is very interested in something, they may have a hard time following the activity if they’re dealing with certain nutrient deficiencies.
A lack of focus, or brain fog, can be a common symptom of nutrient deficiency. A malnourished brain has trouble concentrating, processing, and learning.
If your child is experiencing unexplained symptoms, it’s time to go to the pediatrician. A lot of other conditions can look similar to vitamin deficiencies.
You won’t know for sure until your pediatrician examines your child and conducts some important tests. If you think something is wrong, trust your parental instincts. Call the pediatrician as soon as you can.
Vitamin deficiency can be treated in different ways, and it all depends on the severity of the deficiency. If the deficiency is mild, a change in diet might be all your child needs to get back on the right track.
If the deficiency is related to food allergies that make it difficult to achieve nutritional goals through diet, supplements can go a long way in helping your child stay healthy.
When a child is experiencing severe side effects of vitamin deficiency, they may need vitamin infusions. Vitamins can be given through an IV, and children with severe vitamin deficiencies generally won’t need these infusions again for the rest of their life.
They’re a short-term solution to help the body get back to normal. Your child can maintain better health through lifestyle changes after the infusions have set them back on the right track.
Preventing vitamin deficiency is simple — that is, unless your child is a notoriously picky eater or has absorption issues.
Adding an extra dash of creativity to the meals you serve up and working with your pediatrician can help you keep your child healthy.
Feeding your child a balanced diet doesn’t need to be complicated, and the truth is that many parents just don’t have as much time to cook as they’d like to. It’s difficult to keep the house clean, take care of the kids, and work a full-time job, for example.
The good news is that you don’t need to learn to be a gourmet chef to incorporate more vegetables into your child’s diet.
Grab a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables and toss it with some shredded rotisserie chicken, tofu, or chickpeas and orange stir-fry sauce for a quick, inexpensive dinner that meets all the marks. Serve it over some brown rice, and you’re good to go. Swap out different frozen veggie blends and different grains for a rotating menu of simple, nutritious meals.
You can also swap out the bread, pasta, and cereals you currently use for vitamin-fortified varieties. You won’t need to do anything differently, as the foods you’re already used to serving will provide more nutrition.
If your child has absorption issues related to a stomach or a bowel condition, your pediatrician will tell you how to handle potential vitamin absorption issues. Follow their advice, and make sure to get in touch with them if you suspect that this may be the cause of your child’s symptoms.
Your picky eater will eventually open their eyes to a whole new world of foods, even if it feels like that day will never come.
For now, continue to serve the same foods, brag about how much you like them, and emphasize that grown-ups think they’re awesome. After all, when you’re little, you can’t wait to be like the grown-ups.
Even if you’re persistent and never stop talking about how much grown-ups love healthy food, it might take your little one a while to jump on the health food train. In the meantime, multivitamin supplements can help them get the vitamins and minerals they’re missing from a balanced diet.
Vitamin deficiency isn’t very common, but there’s a good chance that picky eaters aren’t getting as many vitamins as they should. It never hurts to add more variety to your family’s diet and be a little more mindful of what your kids are snacking on.
Hiya Health is always here to help families make conscious choices to support their well-being.
Malabsorption | HealthyChildren.org
Micronutrient Deficiency | Our World in Data
Skin findings associated with nutritional deficiencies | Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine