Public health campaigns offering free vitamin D supplements to at-risk groups can drastically reduce deficiency rates, say UK researchers.
The analysis of a scheme run by by Heart of Birmingham PCT offering free vitamin D supplements to all pregnant and breastfeeding women and the under fives resulted in a reduction in cases of symptomatic vitamin D deficiency of 59% in four years.
The study comes after the chief medical officer wrote to all GPs to remind them to advise pregnant and breastfeeding women and the under fives to take vitamin D supplements in January this year.
The CMO’s letter has been criticised by CCGs as leading to ‘excessive’ prescribing costs, but this new study shows that a better approach might be to run programmes to offer free vitamin supplements to at-risk groups.
Public health officials in Birmingham made vitamin drops available to all eligible women and children in 2005 through GP surgeries and health visitors in an inner city population where 75% of the population were from at-risk ethnic minority groups.
Despite an uptake of the free vitamins of only 17%, the case incidence of vitamin D deficiency between 2005 and 2009 fell from120 to 49 per 100 000, the study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood figures show.
Offering dramatically cuts rates of deficiency and is far more effective than just targeting those at high risk, said the researchers.
Dr Nicholas Shaw, consultant paediatric endocrinologist at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, said the universal approach had significantly reduced vitamin D deficiency in the city.
He said: ‘As far as we know, the only previously published evidence for success of a public health campaign to tackle vitamin D deficiency in children was reported from Glasgow over 25 years ago.’