NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) today announced a doubling of the amount of vitamin D it recommends for infants, children and adolescents.

The new clinical report, “Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents,” recommends all children receive 400 international units (IU) a day of vitamin D, beginning in the first few days of life. The previous recommendation, issued in 2003, called for 200 IU per day beginning in the first 2 months of life.

The new recommendation was announced at the AAP national meeting in Boston Monday. “We are doubling the recommended amount of vitamin D children need each day because evidence has shown this could have life-long health benefits,” co-author Dr. Frank Greer, and chair of the AAP Committee on Nutrition, noted in a written statement.

“Supplementation is important because most children will not get enough vitamin D through diet alone,” Greer added.

Co-author Dr. Carol Wagner, member of the AAP Section on Breastfeeding Executive Committee, noted in the statement that breastfeeding is “the best source of nutrition for infants. However, because of vitamin D deficiencies in the maternal diet, which affect the vitamin D in a mother’s milk, it is important that breastfed infants receive supplements of vitamin D.”

The new recommendation is based on a review of new clinical trials on vitamin D and the historical precedence of safely giving 400 IU per day to the children, according to the AAP. Studies show that 400 units of vitamin D a day will not only prevent the bone-softening disease rickets, but treat it.

Rickets continue to be reported in the United States in infants and adolescents and exclusively breastfed infants who are not supplemented with 400 IU of vitamin D a day are at greatest risk, the AAP notes.

Adequate vitamin D throughout childhood may also reduce the risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, the academy points out, and in adults, new evidence suggests that vitamin D plays a role in the immune system and may help prevent infections, autoimmune diseases, cancer and diabetes.

The new AAP recommendations on vitamin D specifically call for all breastfed and partially breastfed infants to be supplemented with 400 IU a day of vitamin D beginning in the first few days of life; all infants who aren’t breastfed, as well as older children who consume less than one quart per day of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk, should receive a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU a day; and adolescents who do not obtain 400 IU of vitamin D per day through foods should receive a supplement containing that amount.

Children with an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, such as those taking certain medications, may need higher doses of vitamin D, the AAP states.

Given the growing evidence that adequate vitamin D status during pregnancy is important for fetal development, the AAP encourages providers who care for pregnant women to consider measuring vitamin D levels in this population.