Millions of Britons are not getting enough vitamin D – putting them at greater risk of developing rickets and bone deformities, a National Health Service watchdog has warned.
Government figures show that up to a quarter of the British population don’t get enough of the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, which is crucial for healthy bones but most do not know it.
Pregnant women, people with darker skin and children are all at higher risk of not getting enough of the essential nutrient.
Those living in the sun-deprived north of England also tend to have lower levels of the vital vitamin, while almost 75 per cent of Asian adults don’t get enough of it during the winter months.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has warned that doctors and nurses should be doing more to advise patients of the dangers of vitamin D deficiency and should extend its prescription.
A lack of the essential nutrient can cause rickets in children and in adults can lead to osteomalacia, causing the person’s bones to become weak and painful, and hampering mobility.
The best source of vitamin D is sunlight and it only occurs naturally in a few foods, such as oily fish and eggs.
Under a raft of new UK recommendations, NICE is calling for a national campaign to raise awareness about the importance of vitamin D among doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
It also recommends vitamin D tablets should be dished out far more widely and called on the British Government to extend the distribution of supplements which are currently given free only to pregnant women, mothers with young children and children aged six months to four years.
Chemists should also be encouraged to stock low cost supplements containing vitamin D and councils should consider making supplements free for at risk groups, NICE said.
Professor Mike Kelly, director of the NICE Centre for Public Health, said the new proposals were vital for improving the nation’s health.
“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,” he 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“This draft guidance calls for better awareness of vitamin D deficiency among health professionals and the public, suggesting that a national campaign on the importance of vitamin D for good health is developed.
“Health professionals should also recommend a daily vitamin D supplement to people at risk of low levels, at every available opportunity.
“Better availability and lower cost of vitamin D supplements are important, as the costs can be prohibitive for people at risk who need to take it.”