EU-funded researchers have delivered the first internationally comparable data providing firm evidence of a significant risk to public health in Europe from vitamin D deficiency.
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The evidence, gathered by the ODIN project, demonstrates that one in eight individuals (13 %) resident in Europe is vitamin D deficient.
ODIN has designed and implemented randomised controlled trials to define vitamin D requirements in neglected life stage groups as well as developed and tested the effectiveness of new vitamin D fortified foods to prevent vitamin D deficiency in European citizens. The design of research studies on vitamin D is complicated by the fact that it can by produced by humans when skin is exposed to UVB sunshine, so its availability must be considered.
ODIN’s latest research findings show that there is a high risk of deficiency among adolescents and young adult Caucasians, and that vulnerable population groups, including ethnic minorities and pregnant women and infants are particularly at risk. These finding are important as vitamin D deficiency has significant implications for human health and impacts on healthy growth and development as well as ageing.
The primary focus of ODIN’s work is to increase vitamin D intake through vitamin D fortified foods. ODIN found that reduced-fat Gouda cheese enriched with vitamin D3 prevents deficiency during winter in postmenopausal women in Greece. In another study, vitamin D-enhanced eggs were found to be acceptable to consumers and protect against deficiency in winter.
Vision for future research
More research on vitamin D and health, specifically in vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities and pregnant women is needed to build on ODIN’s extensive findings to improve perinatal and infant outcomes. “We need to conduct nutrition research in vulnerable population groups in order to develop life-stage specific recommendations for nutrient intakes,” says project coordinator Mairead Kiely.
Communication with the public and stakeholders
As well as publishing 22 papers in high impact journals and giving over 80 conference and workshop presentations to date, ODIN actively disseminated key findings to the general public and stakeholders via the ODIN website, and social media. Furthermore, ODIN is holding an international scientific conference at University College Cork in Ireland on Vitamin D and Health in Europe on 5 and 6 September 2017.
The Vitamin D Deficiency Map and Vitamin D Winter Map also translate the research findings into more accessible language for the general public.
Project co-ordinators Mairead Kiely and Kevin Cashman sum up ODIN’s accomplishments: “It was a core objective at the outset of ODIN to provide new evidence on which regulators could base dietary reference values for vitamin D as well as confidently make recommendations in relation to vitamin D dietary guidelines, the role of sun exposure in vitamin D skin synthesis, as well as safe levels of vitamin D that can be added to animal feedstuffs and human foods. We are delighted that ODIN has already achieved much of what is set out to do, and is on track to successfully address the knowledge gaps required to tackle vitamin D deficiency in Europe.”