Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges in today’s world. Over one third of children and adolescents are obese or overweight according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The obesity rate has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Obese children are at increased risk of having prediabetes, heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and bone and joint problems—all at such a young age.

That’s not all—obese children and adolescents are more likely to be obese adults, with the accompanying increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is largely to blame for the childhood obesity epidemic, but that’s a topic for another day. Today I want to mention the results of a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers from the University of Missouri found that vitamin D supplements given to obese children with deficient or insufficient vitamin D levels helped control blood sugar by lowering insulin levels.

“By increasing vitamin D intake alone, we got a response that was nearly as powerful as what we have seen using a prescription drug,” noted Catherine Pearson, PhD, lead researcher. “We saw a decrease in insulin levels, which means better glucose control, despite no changes in body weight, dietary intake, or physical activity.” The study emphasized the importance of checking vitamin D levels, since they can vary.

“What makes vitamin D insufficiency different in obese individuals is that they process vitamin D about half as efficiently as normal-weight people,” stated Peterson. “The vitamin gets stored in their fat tissues, which keeps it from being processed. This means obese individuals need to take in about twice as much vitamin D as their lean peers to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D.” That’s interesting—being overweight can affect your vitamin D levels. It’s an important fact that is now well known.

Vitamin D is crucial to our overall health—children, adults, and elderly alike. If you haven’t had your vitamin D levels—and those of your children—tested, I suggest you do so.