One in eight Europeans is vitamin D deficient, according to the latest results from the EU-funded ODIN project. The project's evidence of the risk to people's health posed by vitamin D deficiency sets the stage for effective food-based strategies to address this preventable threat.
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ODIN’s ongoing research continues to close the gaps in knowledge about vitamin D deficiency in Europe. The project has just published its first major finding, which is to quantify, for the first time in Europe, the scale of vitamin D deficiency across the continent. In summary, 13 %, or 1 in 8 people, have vitamin D blood levels that are under the minimum threshold, with wide variations between countries depending on factors such as geographical location, age, gender and ethnicity.
“Even with the relatively conservative definition of vitamin D deficiency used in ODIN, this translates into an enormous numbers of individuals who are vitamin D deficient and highlights the need to devise strategies for prevention of vitamin D deficiency in Europe,” says joint project coordinator Kevin Cashman of University College Cork in Ireland.
Another key finding was that dark-skinned people are at a “worryingly higher risk” of vitamin D deficiency compared to their white counterparts. For example, compared to white populations in the UK, Norway and Finland, non-whites were found to have from a 3 to 71-fold higher prevalence of vitamin D deficiency. This translates into between a quarter and two-thirds of non-whites suffering from vitamin D deficiency, depending on the country.
The development of food-based strategies for preventing vitamin D deficiency requires detailed knowledge of the current dietary sources of vitamin D and potential foods for fortification.
ODIN has conducted a dietary analysis of 10 national surveys of adults, elderly adults and children in 4 countries. Dietary intakes in all surveys, analysed using a novel approach developed by ODIN, showed widespread inadequacy of vitamin D, says joint project coordinator Mairead Kiely of University College Cork.
ODIN’s studies in dietary modelling are promising for developing strategies to address vitamin D deficiency, she says. This part of the project is due for completion in the second quarter of 2016.
ODIN’s researchers have also completed several randomised controlled trials to determine the technological feasibility and effectiveness of various approaches to food fortification. The studies – conducted in Greece, Finland, Ireland and Denmark – are showing promising results for commonly available foods, including meat, fish and eggs.
Other studies in Cork, the UK, Finland and Denmark are addressing gaps in knowledge on dietary requirements for vitamin D in pregnant women, children, adolescents and dark-skinned adults. These studies are nearing completion and will be available in the second half of 2016.
ODIN is also addressing knowledge gaps in vitamin D status and cardiovascular health in older adults. The researchers are also starting to work on vitamin D and health outcomes in pregnancy and young children, scheduled for completion before ODIN ends, in October 2017.
(Updated 1 April 2016)