News story

Dangers of vitamin D deficiency highlighted

Following fresh concerns about vitamin D deficiency, the UK's 4 Chief Medical Officers have written to health professionals reminding them about this issue.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Figures show up to a quarter of the population has low levels of vitamin D in their blood and the majority of pregnant women do not take vitamin D supplements.

Health professionals are being encouraged to use their routine contact with at-risk groups to raise awareness of the advice on taking vitamin D supplements and remind them to be alert to the signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.

In severe cases, deficiency can lead to bone problems such as rickets in children and weakness, aches and pains due to osteomalacia (the adult form of rickets) in adults.

People on lower incomes should also be made aware they may get free vitamin supplements through the Healthy Start scheme.

Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Dame Sally Davies said:

A significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood. People at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under 5, are already advised to take daily supplements. Our experts are clear - low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.

The following groups of people are at risk of vitamin D deficiency:

  • all pregnant and breastfeeding women, especially teenagers and young women
  • infants and young children under 5 years of age
  • older people aged 65 years and over
  • people who have low or no exposure to the sun, for example those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods
  • people who have darker skin, for example people of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin, because their bodies are not able to make as much vitamin D

About vitamin D

Vitamin D is naturally obtained through exposure to sunlight and from foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified fat spreads and some fortified breakfast cereals. But it’s difficult to get enough from food alone.

Read the reminder about vitamin D deficiency letter from the UK CMOs, which was issued on 2 February.

Published 6 February 2012