Vitamin D: Supplement Linked to Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Children

Taking vitamin D could help overweight and obese children lose weight, scientists believe.

Vitamin D is most commonly associated with the development and maintenance of strong bones as the body needs it to absorb calcium. But recently emerging research suggests vitamin D deficiency could also be a contributing factor of obesity.

The World Health Organization describes childhood obesity as one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century, with an estimated 41 million children under the age of 5 falling into this category. Obesity puts children at greater risk of developing preventable conditions like heart disease and diabetes at a younger age, and suffering poor health later in life.

Researchers believe vitamin D supplements could aid weight loss in obese children. Getty Images

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In what is believed to be the first study to investigate the links between vitamin D supplementation and the weight and health of obese children and adolescents, researchers from University of Athens Medical School and Aghia Sophia Children's Hospital, Athens, recruited 232 particpants.

The team measured participants' vitamin D levels, body fat percentage, as well as their markers of liver and heart function at the start of the study, and again 12 months later.

The researchers randomly assigned 117 children with supplements containing 50,000 IU vitamin D for six weeks, while the others acted as the control group.

Children who took vitamin D had a significantly lower BMI, the researchers found. They also had lower body fat, as well as healthier cholesterol levels.

Dr. Evangelia Charmandari, associate professor pediatric and adolescent endocrinology at at the Medical School of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and lead author of the study, said: "These findings suggest that simple vitamin D supplementation may reduce the risk of overweight and obese children developing serious heart and metabolic complications in later life."

The findings are set to be presented at the 57th Annual European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology Meeting, and have therefore not yet been reviewed.

In their next investigation, the team will study whether vitamin D supplements can improve the health of obese children and adolescents who have been diagnosed with disorders linked to obesity, such as high cholesterol, high blood sugar levels, and high blood pressure.

"Although these initial findings indicate that vitamin D could be used in the treatment of obesity, there remains a lack of evidence on the safety and long-term effects of supplementation, particularly if there is no vitamin D deficiency," said Charmandari. "However, if your child is overweight or obese I recommend that you consult your primary care physician for advice, and consider having their vitamin D levels tested."

Professor Mary Fewtrell, assistant officer for health promotion at the U.K.-based Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told Newsweek: "Although the effect sizes are not given, these outcomes are certainly positive. It's encouraging that a simple intervention could have these effects and this certainly merits further investigation to consider its potential impacts on vitamin D supplementation for children with obesity."

Earlier this year, researchers in the Netherlands published a study indicating higher levels of belly fat are linked to lower vitamin D levels.

According to findings presented at the European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting in Barcelona, individuals with higher levels of total body and abdominal fat appeared to have lower levels of vitamin D.

Rachida Rafiq, the lead author of the study told Newsweek at the time: "Our results are significant as vitamin D deficiency and obesity are very common problems in our society nowadays," she told Newsweek, and argued that it is an important potential relationship to explore.

"Future studies should explore what the underlying mechanisms are that explain this specific relationship between vitamin D and visceral adipose tissue."