A new study published in The Journal of Nutrition found evidence of an association between vitamin D levels during pregnancy and childhood behaviors.

Early pregnancy is a critical window during which vitamin D performs numerous biological functions critical to early brain development. Previous studies have linked prenatal vitamin D deficiency with childhood behavioral problems. However, there are inconsistencies in these findings, and additional investigation is warranted as childhood behavioral problems are important predictors of other difficulties later in life. Furthermore, whether relationships between vitamin D status and childhood behavior differ between races is unclear. To bridge this knowledge gap, Melough (University of Delaware) and colleagues examined the relationship between gestational vitamin D concentrations and behavioral scores in early and middle childhood. The analysis was conducted with a large and diverse sample of participants from the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes Program (ECHO), a consortium of pediatric cohort studies collecting data under a common protocol since 2019.

Mother-child dyads from ECHO cohorts with data available on prenatal or cord blood vitamin D and childhood behavioral outcomes were included. Behavior was assessed using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire or the Child Behavior Checklist. Associations of vitamin D with total, internalizing, and externalizing problem scores were examined. The authors accounted for maternal race, age, sex, and socioeconomic and lifestyle factors. Behaviors in early (1-1.5 years) and middle childhood (6-13 years) were examined in 1688 and 1480 dyads, respectively.

Study results supported the hypothesized association between gestational vitamin D and childhood behavioral outcomes. Vitamin D concentrations in prenatal or cord blood were negatively associated with externalizing problems in middle childhood and with externalizing and total behavioral problems in early childhood. Overall, this study confirmed a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy in the United States, especially among those who self-identified as Black. As vitamin D deficiency is prevalent among pregnant women in the United States, interventions to prevent or correct vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy may be warranted to promote childhood behavioral health.


Melough MM, Li M, Hamra G, Palmore M, Sauder KA, Dunlop AL, LeWinn KZ, Zhao Q, Kelly RS, Switkowdki KM, Hipwell AE, Korrick SA, Collett BR, MacKenzie D, Nozadi SS, Kerver JM, Schmidt RJ, McGrath M, Sheela Sathyanarayana S, on behalf or program collaborators for Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes. Greater Gestational Vitamin D Status is Associated with Reduced Childhood Behavioral Problems in the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 153, Issue 5, May 2023, Pages 1502-1511, doi.org/10.1016/j.tjnut.2023.03.005.

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