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Government steps up campaign for vitamin D supplementation

The Government has asked experts to review the dietary advice it gives on vitamin D supplementation and intends to write to all GPs to remind them that they should be advising all people in at-risk groups to take vitamin D supplements.

The move follows a survey late last year that found over a quarter of under-fives do not have enough vitamin D, and are at risk of bone problems.

Current Department of Health guidelines say all patients under five years, over 65 years and those who are pregnant, breast-feeding or are not exposed the sun, should be advised to take vitamin D supplements.

People from ethnic minorities with darker skin are also advised to take vitamin D supplements.

Chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies is set to write a letter to all GPs to ensure that they are recommending vitamin D supplements to all at-risk groups.

Professor Davies said: ‘A significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood.'

‘Our experts are clear - low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.'

‘Many health professionals such as midwives, GPs and nurses give advice on supplements, and it is crucial they continue to offer this advice as part of routine consultations and ensure disadvantaged families have access to free vitamin supplements through our Healthy Start scheme.'

Professor Davies also said the Department of Health had asked the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to review their advice on dietary recommendations for vitamin D.

A recent Cochrane review looking at 45 trials on vitamin D supplementation found the supplement alone is unlikely to prevent fractures, although taking vitamin D with calcium supplements did appear to reduce risk of hip fractures in people living in institutional care.

Dr Louise Warburton, a GPSI in musculoskeletal medicine in Shrewsbury and president of the Primary Care Rheumatology Society, said she supported the focus on vitamin D deficiency, but said supplements may not be the only solution.

She said: ‘We do have quite a lot of people who are deficient in vitamin D in the clinic that I do - people with non-specific aches and pains.'

‘It is a problem out there, but going out on a sunny day is definitely the best way to supplement it.

At risk groups

  • All pregnant and breastfeeding women, especially teenagers and young women
  • Young children under 5 years of age
  • All people aged 65 years and over.
  • People who are not exposed to much sun, for example those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods.
  • People from ethnic minorities who have darker skin, because their bodies are not able to produce as much vitamin D. Clinical deficiency has been most reported among children of African-Caribbean and South Asian origin.

Source: Department of Health

Read the current guidelines here