A formal review needs to examine whether foods and beverages can be fortified with vitamin D to address health inequities, Sajid Javid has announced.
Officials said the study was being launched following evidence that around one in six adults in the UK have low levels of vitamin D, a deficiency that can lead to conditions such as rickets, disabilities and bone pain. The increased use of supplements will also be examined, with Javid calling on experts and patient groups to present evidence.
Almost 20% of children in the UK have vitamin D levels below government recommendations. Health officials said the elderly, people who are housebound and people from black and South Asian communities are also more likely to have lower levels. The new call for evidence comes from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) and comes ahead of broader proposals to reduce health disparities to be released later this year.
Official advice states that all adults and children should consider taking a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the darker months between October and March. Other at-risk groups are advised to consider taking a supplement throughout the year.
“We need to break the link between antecedents and prospects for healthy living. I am committed to improving the nation’s health and addressing disparities,” Javid said. “People from Black and Asian communities, older adults, and people who have limited access to the outdoors are more likely to have lower levels of vitamin D, which is essential for bone and muscle health and improvement in years of life lived in good health. I launched this call for evidence to identify innovative ways to encourage people to increase their vitamin D intake and help them live longer, healthier and happier lives.
The study comes after the government chose not to repeat a program of free vitamin D supplements to vulnerable people last winter. In the past year, nearly three million clinically extremely vulnerable people were offered a free four-month course of the supplement. Clinicians feared the group had spent so much time protecting themselves indoors that they might be deficient in the vitamin, which is largely supplied by sunlight.
Some groups and MPs have suggested that vitamin D could play a role in the fight against Covid, as it could play a role in the immune response. However, the evidence has been mixed. An evaluation of recent trials suggested there was “no clear and consistent benefit” of the supplement in terms of fighting upper respiratory tract infections. Another reviewing healthcare workers suggested it could reduce infection and morbidity.