Babies low in vitamin D at higher risk of respiratory infections

Newborns with lower levels of vitamin D are twice as likely to be admitted to hospital with acute respiratory infections during infancy.

University of Auckland research, published in the Journal of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, uses data from this country’s largest contemporary longitudinal study, Growing Up in New Zealand.

The study looked at vitamin D levels from more than 1,300 babies in the study at birth and then examined hospital data for respiratory admissions in the children’s first year of life.

It found that babies who recorded lower levels of vitamin D at birth were more likely to hospitalised for acute respiratory infections. Those with the lowest levels of vitamin D at birth were more likely to be hospitalised more than once and to have longer stays in hospital.

Professor of Paediatrics at the university's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and Paediatrician at Starship Children’s Hospital, Dr. Cameron Grant, says the research highlights the important role vitamin D plays in the health of infants in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

“The findings have important policy implications for a country like New Zealand where we have high rates of hospitalisation for young children with acute respiratory infections, and yet vitamin D supplementation is not routinely recommended,” he says.

“Vitamin D status at birth is poorer in Māori and Pacific infants, who are also more frequently hospitalised for acute respiratory infections in early childhood. Improving vitamin D status during pregnancy and infancy could prevent help hospital admissions for respiratory infections, especially for Māori and Pacific infants."

Professor Grant says a newborn’s levels of vitamin D are largely dictated by the levels of vitamin D in the pregnant mother.

He says previous research in New Zealand has shown that providing vitamin D supplementation to pregnant women and their babies resulted in a reduction in GP visits for respiratory infections in the first 18 months of life.

“We need to consider recommending vitamin D supplementation for all pregnant women and newborn infants in New Zealand during Winter and Spring, the seasons when vitamin D status is poorer. This is a policy intervention that could have a positive impact on respiratory health in early life, particularly for Māori and Pacific infants”.

This research was completed by Rajneeta Saraf for her PhD. Dr Saraf is now a research fellow in the Department of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Auckland.

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