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UK launches vitamin D inquiry to tackle nationwide deficiencies

April 9, 2022
Life sciences

The UK Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) is launching an inquiry into the potential of vitamin D supplements and fortified F&B to impact the health of UK residents. The review aims to raise awareness on vitamin D while compiling views from citizens, civil groups, health experts and F&B industry to improve intake across demographics.

“We want to improve the dietary health of the population and this includes supporting everyone to maintain sufficient vitamin D levels to support strong and healthy bones and muscles,” says Dr. Tazeem Bhattia, interim chief nutritionist at OHID.

Commenting on the move, Dr. Colin Smith, professor at the University of Surrey department of nutritional sciences tells NutritionInsight: “Too many people in the UK are vitamin D deficient, mistakenly thinking they get enough from the sun or their diet.”

“This problem has been further exacerbated by lockdown over the last two years and people with pigmented skin, such as Black and South Asian ethnic groups, are generally seriously and chronically vitamin D deficient.”

The OHID’s six week inquiry anticipates the Health Disparities White Paper setting out plans to reduce demographic and regional health inequality, due to be published later this year.

Vitamin D deficiencies can lead to bone pain, rickets, and the development of health conditions including osteoporosis.

Addressing demographic disparities
Deficiencies of vitamin D are particularly common among elderly people and those who are housebound. Additionally people who have darker skin, such as those from Black or Asian communities also tend to have lower levels within the UK, highlights Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid.

Similarly, in the US, a 2021 study found vitamin D deficiencies to be “two to ten times higher” among non-Hispanic Black US residents. Such discrepancies in health quality are major drivers of the initiative.

“We must break the link between background and prospects for a healthy life, and I am determined to level up the health of the nation and tackle disparities,” affirms Javid.

Currently in the UK, free supplements of folic acid, vitamin C and D are available to low-income new or expecting parents as part of the UK’s Healthy Start scheme – a program similar to the UK Welfare Food Scheme, but for young families.

Under the scheme, children under the age of four from eligible families may also receive supplements free of charge. However, uptake is reportedly “extremely low,” even amid rising interest in vitamin D throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Limited dietary sources of vitamin D
One in six UK adults and almost 20% of UK children across demographics have vitamin D levels that fall short of government recommendations.

In the UK, most people obtain a majority of their vitamin D from sunlight on their skin. This is because dietary sources of vitamin D in the country are lacking.

Currently, UK government advice recommends both adults and children to take a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms between October and March, when there is less sunlight. At-risk groups are recommended to take a supplement throughout the ear.

Despite this, uptake has also been low, with only one in six UK adults report taking daily supplements.

“There is no doubt that people working indoors or that are housebound will have a low vitamin D status. Essentially, anyone living in the UK and other countries of similar latitude, particularly if they have dark skin, should take a daily supplement of vitamin D3 all year round,” Smith adds.

In 2020, NutritionInsight held a roundtable on whether vitamin D deficiencies amid the COVID-19 pandemic should be tackled via supplements or through fortified foods.

In February, Switzerland’s Federal Food & Safety Veterinary Office recommended over 65s take daily vitamin D supplements, at the recommendation of International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations (IADSA), a UK-based group made up of members of the supplements industry.

As IADSA notes, The Finnish government instituted fortification quotas to help its population cope with long, dark winters. The program was largely successful, slashing deficiencies exponentially.

By Olivia Nelson


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