UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid has launched an official review into vitamin D intake which will in part assess food and drink fortification.
Around one in six adults and one in five children in the UK have low levels of vitamin D, according to the Government. These numbers rise further for older people, the housebound and people from Black and South Asian communities.
The consequences of vitamin D deficiency can be serious, with bone pain and rickets some of the worst results.
While it is possible to get some vitamin D into the body, particularly through eating certain kinds of fish, eggs and mushrooms, in the UK most people obtain it through sunlight exposure during spring and summer. Current advice is for all adults and children to take a 10mg daily supplement between October and March.
However, the Government reports low numbers of people who actually do so.
The study, announced by Javid and run by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), will call for evidence on new and innovative ways to boost vitamin D levels across the population.
It will aim to gather evidence from the public, public health experts, retailers, food manufacturers and other industry bodies. Accompanying the study will also be a national campaign to raise awareness of the importance of vitamin D.
One of the ideas which will be assessed is fortification. The practice has a long history in the UK. Since 1941 white flour has been fortified with calcium to prevent rickets, with the addition of iron and various vitamins in the 1950s.
Other commonly fortified foods include breakfast cereals, plant milks and infant formula milk. Most recently, the Government moved forward with its plans to add folic acid to flour to prevent spinal conditions in babies.
However, there is an emphasis on new ideas too. Javid commented: “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 forms part of a wider effort by Government to close the gaps in health outcomes between demographics.
A Health Disparities White Paper is due to be published later this year, which will set out action to tackle the issue.
The Health Secretary said: “We must break the link between background and prospects for a healthy life, and I am determined to level up the health of the nation and tackle disparities.”
Dr Tazeem Bhatia, Interim Chief Nutritionist at OHID, added: “I welcome this call for evidence as part of OHID’s continued drive to improve health outcomes and tackle health disparities.
“We want to improve the dietary health of the population and this includes supporting everyone to maintain sufficient vitamin D levels to support strong and healthy bones and muscles.”