With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Vitamin D Gap

A good reason to keep and expand health care reform

Severe Vitamin D deficiencies may cause cognitive impairment, missed school days, and affect a student's academic ability. More importantly it can also lead to high risks of death from cardiovascular disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes and other serious physical and mental health problems. It, along with other elevated health risks for African-American children may provide reasons for the widening so-called "achievement gap" in standardized test results.

Recent studies find 98% of African-Americans and 90% of Mexican-Americans are Vitamin D deficient. That compares with 72% of whites. Of those, 27% of African-Americans and 8.5% of Mexican-Americans suffer from severe Vitamin D deficiency as compared with only 2.5% of whites.

Reasons for the gap may include darker skin, with higher levels of melanin, reduces the body's ability to make Vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. But there's a poverty factor operating as well. Those with resources can usually make up for deficiencies by taking vitamin supplements or adjusting their diets. Those living in poverty and without access to medical care, often don't even know they are deficient.

Today's corporate school reformers would like us to believe that the entire responsibility for measurable learning outcomes rest on the school and individual classroom teachers. They show little interest in improving the conditions for students outside of school and claim that focusing on such issues is simply an "excuse" for low performance. Providing all students with (especially preventive) medical care and children of color with Vitamin D supplements could go a long way in narrowing the gap.

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