Blog: Dean BestUK doctors call for more Vitamin D in foods

Dean Best | 17 December 2012

Concern over rising cases of rickets, a disease rarely seen in the UK since the 19th century, has prompted doctors in the country to call for more foods to be fortified with vitamin D.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has launched a campaign to raise awareness of what it says is the "growing problem" of vitamin D deficiency - and called for more research into what the UK food industry can do to add the vitamin to its products.

"Localised research reveals startling high levels of vitamin deficiency amongst certain groups including children," said Professor Mitch Blair, officer for health promotion at the RCPCH.

"People can only get a fraction (10%) of their recommended daily amount of vitamin D through food and very little from sunlight. So getting out in the sun more or eating more oily fish isn't going to solve the problem. Lack of vitamin D is related to a plethora of serious illnesses in children and adults that could be prevented through relatively simple steps such as taking supplements."

However, the College wants further studies into food manufacturers can do. In its position statement on the issue, the RCPCH set out a number of recommendations to address the problem, which is also resulting in higher incidencies of illnesses including diabetes, tuberculosis and multiple sclerosis.

"We recommend further scoping into what action can be taken by the food industry in regards to the fortification of foods and milk with vitamin D. This is being done in several countries outside of the UK," the College said.

Earlier this year, yoghurt giant Yoplait highlighted the problem when it launched Calin+, a product it says will help boost the UK's intake of vitamin D.

As was discussed on these pages in September, in a series of presentations from three medical professionals at the launch of Calin+, reporters were shown how the UK's intake of vitamin D is inadequate across different types of consumers. A switch to low-fat diets, the under-consumption of oily fish, the low level of supplements and even the fabled poor UK weather were cited as factors for the country's low levels of vitamin D.

The RCPCH's announcement is an attempt to boost awareness of the problems associated with a low intake of vitamin D. The College called for a "public awareness campaign" on the issue and the subject was reported on the national news over the weekend.

However, much, much more needs to be done. The Chief Medical Officer recommended that all pregnant and breastfeeding women, children aged six months to five-years-old and people aged 65 and over should take vitamin D supplements but it could be argued that recommendation has not been publicised enough. Furthermore, perhaps it is a recommendation for the entire population that is needed.

Yoplait is among the manufacturers that have recognised the problem and the potential market for products fortified with vitamin D. The company insists that, despite the low intake, consumers are becoming far more interested in the issue. The RCPCH would no doubt praise Yoplait and be pleased at the increased awareness the yoghurt company could bring to the subject.

However, for more manufacturers to seriously look at fortifying its products, particularly in this tough economic climate, they would need to be convinced the demand is there. That is the chicken and egg nature of such issues.



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