An official review is to examine whether food and drink can be fortified with vitamin D to close health inequalities, Sajid Javid has announced.
Officials said that the study was being launched following evidence that around one in six adults in the UK has low levels of vitamin D, a deficiency that can lead to conditions such as rickets, disabilities and bone pain. The greater use of supplements will also be examined, with Javid calling on experts and patient groups to come forward with evidence.
Almost 20% of children in the UK have vitamin D levels lower than government recommendations. Health officials said that older people, the housebound and people from Black and South Asian communities are also more likely to have lower levels. The new call for evidence is being launched by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) and comes ahead of broader proposals for closing health disparities to be published later this year.
Official advice states that all adults and children should consider taking a daily 10 micrograms supplement of vitamin D in the darker months between October and March. Other at-risk groups are advised to consider taking a supplement throughout the year.
“We must break the link between background and prospects for a healthy life. I am determined to level up the health of the nation and tackle disparities,” Javid said. “People from Black and Asian communities, older people 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 improving years of life lived in good health. I have launched this call for evidence to identify innovative ways we can encourage people to increase their vitamin D intake and help people live longer, healthier and happier lives.”
The study comes after the government opted not to repeat a scheme handing out vitamin D supplements for free to vulnerable people last winter. During the previous year, nearly three million clinically extremely vulnerable people were offered a free four-month course of the supplement. Clinicians were concerned that the group had spent so much time shielding inside that they may be deficient in the vitamin, largely supplied through sunlight.
Some groups and MPs have suggested that vitamin D could play a role in combating Covid, as it may play a role in immune response. However, the evidence has been mixed. One assessment of recent trials suggested that there was “no clear, consistent benefit” to the supplement in terms of battling upper respiratory infections. Another looking at healthcare workers suggested it may reduce infection and morbidity.