A study has found that teens with lower levels of vitamin D have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes and are more likely to have high blood pressure and blood sugar.
The researchers also found that, on average, white teens had vitamin D levels almost twice as high as African American teens and about 30 percent higher than Mexican American teens.
"These data on serum vitamin D levels in young people raise some concern about their food choices and even the amount of time they spend in the sunshine," said Robert Eckel, a past president of the American Heart Association.
The body produces vitamin D in response to exposure to the sun and it can also be found in a number of foods such as fortified milk, fish and eggs.
Vitamin D helps to maintain strong bones by aiding in the absorption of calcium and also helps maintain normal blood levels of phosphorus and calcium.
It is a fat-soluble vitamin and low levels are common among those who are overweight or have abdominal obesity.
But even after adjusting for body mass, physical activity levels, age, sex, race or ethnicity and socioeconomic level, researchers still found significant links between low levels of vitamin D and poor health among teens.
Teens with the lowest level of vitamin D were four times more likely to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of heart disease and diabetes risk factors including elevated waist circumference, high blood pressure, and low levels of good cholesterol.
They were also 2.36 times more likely to have high blood pressure and 2.54 times more likely to have high blood sugar.
The study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, analyzed 3,577 adolescents, who participated in the nationally representative National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
"Although our study is important, we believe clinical trials designed to determine the effects of vitamin D supplementation on the risk of heart disease risk factors in adolescents should be conducted before recommendations can be made for vitamin D in the prevention of cardiovascular disease," said lead author Jared Reis of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.