A national campaign is needed to boost awareness among health professionals of the risks of vitamin D deficiency and the need for supplements, according to draft public health guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
Action is needed nationally and locally to improve the advice given to people who do not receive enough vitamin D and to make it easier for them to get supplements, the institute said in its draft public health guideline.
Low levels of the vitamin can lead to weaker bones in adults, and rickets in children. NICE has today published draft guidance for consultation on providing vitamin D supplements for people likely to be deficient.
It advises making health professionals and the public more aware of the importance of vitamin D for good health, and proposes ways of improving the availability of vitamin D supplements.
“This draft guidance calls for better awareness of vitamin D deficiency among health professionals”
For example, NICE recommended training and a national campaign should be developed to raise awareness about the importance of vitamin D among nurses, doctors and the public.
Meanwhile, NICE said dietary supplements containing the recommended amount of vitamin D should be made more widely available.
Action should include the Department of Health amending existing legislation to allow Healthy Start vitamins to be more widely distributed and local authorities considering making supplements free for at risk groups.
Professor Mike Kelly, director of the NICE Centre for Public Health, said: “There is a lack of awareness among health professionals and the public that a balanced diet alone will not provide sufficient vitamin D.
“This draft guidance calls for better awareness of vitamin D deficiency among health professionals and the public,” he said. “Health professionals should also recommend a daily vitamin D supplement to people at risk of low levels, at every available opportunity.”
In addition, NICE said existing government recommendations needed clarification – such as removing any inconsistencies in which groups of people are at risk and may need supplements, and what health and other services are advised to provide.
Professor Kelly said: “The uptake of Healthy Start supplements among pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under five is very low – reported to be less than 10%. Better availability of the supplements, and awareness of their importance, could help increase uptake.”
Those at risk of having low vitamin D levels include people with darker skin and older adults, because their skin does not make vitamin D very well following exposure to sunlight.
Pregnant women, children, and people who do not get much sun exposure – such as those who live in care homes – are also at risk.
“Around one in five adults may have low vitamin D levels – such as the elderly and people with darker skin – and so are at risk of these conditions,” said Professor Kelly.
“The main natural sources of vitamin D are through the action of sunlight on the skin, so people who aren’t able to create enough vitamin in this way may need dietary supplements.”
“Living in the UK, you simply cannot get enough vitamin D from the sun or through diet”
Professor Mitch Blair, health promotion office at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said there had been ten-fold increase in hospital admissions involving children with rickets over the last 20 years.
“Living in the UK, you simply cannot get enough vitamin D from the sun or through diet,” he said.
“This consultation, and subsequent guidance, is much needed and something we’ve long called to ensure vitamin D deficiency becomes a thing of the past,” he added.
A survey by the health food industry, published yesterday, suggested nearly 60% of parents were ignoring evidence suggesting that children aged six months to five years should receive daily vitamin D supplements.
The public consultation on the draft guidance closes on 24 June, with final guidelines expected in November.