The majority of immigrant and refugee children in Canada are not getting their daily recommended dose of vitamin D. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

An alarming number of new immigrant and refugee children in Canada are not getting enough vitamin D, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan says.

Hassan Vatanparast has been testing the nutrition levels of 130 refugee and immigrant children in Saskatchewan between the ages of seven and 11.

His research shows 82 per cent of refugee children and 54 per cent of immigrant children consume an insufficient amount of vitamin D, compared to 14 per cent of Canadian children overall.

Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the bloodstream, which affects bone growth. It also influences neuromuscular function and prevents inflammation. People who are deficient in vitamin D during childhood are prone to osteoporosis later in life.

People naturally create vitamin D when exposed to the sun, which is why it's called the sunshine vitamin.


Hassan Vatanparast has been studying vitamin D levels in 130 children between the ages of seven and 11. (CBC)

In much of Canada, however, the winter sunlight is not strong enough to deliver a measurable amount of vitamin D through the skin. Vatanparast adds that dark-skinned people are at even more of a disadvantage.

"Darker skin means there's a barrier toward absorbing the UVB wavelengths that you need to make Vitamin D," he said.

Most Canadians who get their daily dose do so through supplements or drinking milk, which, in Canada, is fortified with vitamin D. Health Canada recommends children receive at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day, while adults should take at least 800 IU.

However, Vatanparast points out that immigrants and refugees are not as likely to drink milk as people born in Canada. Lower education and income levels mean they are also less likely to add expensive supplements to their diet.

He suggests the government consider fortifying other foods, like eggs, cheese or bread, which newcomers are more likely to consume.

Vatanparast has not published his research yet. He is working on a larger study to get a broader idea of the problem.