Published: 23 March 2022

REF 2021 case study: How Vitamin D research led to new government guidelines 

This pioneering research at Surrey led to new government guidelines on Vitamin D and is one example of research impact included in the University’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 submission.  

REF 2021 is the UK’s system for assessing the excellence of research in UK higher education providers. Nationally, the REF outcomes are used to inform the allocation of around £2 billion per year of public funding for universities’ research. The results will be published in May.

Professor Sue Lanham-New and her team in the Department of Nutritional Sciences demonstrated that many people weren’t getting enough Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight.   

These findings were instrumental in driving new guidance at a UK and European level, which led directly to food manufacturers including Yakult and Warburtons reformulating some of their food products. 

In addition, sales of Vitamin D supplements increased by a third, becoming the fastest growing supplement in the UK vitamins and minerals sector. 

The Surrey Vitamin D research results have impacted the lives of millions of people in the United Kingdom.   

Before 2016, there were no national guidelines for the consumption of Vitamin D, essential for bone growth and health. A lack of Vitamin D means that our bodies cannot absorb calcium, which is a major cause of osteoporosis, costing the NHS around £2 billion a year.    

Government scientists thought that sunlight exposure during the spring and summer was sufficient to sustain our Vitamin D levels during the winter months.    

But Lanham-New’s research across the life cycle and in different ethnicities helped to successfully challenge that view and led to the first-ever reference nutritional intake (RNI) for Vitamin D, setting a minimum intake which meets the needs of 97.5% of the population. 

 Lanham-New explained: “For us to be in good health and good mobility we need Vitamin D, but we also now know that it’s important in other key health outcomes.    

“What we’re trying to do is improve the health of the UK population through ensuring that all population groups, irrespective of their ethnicity, ensure that their Vitamin D levels are sufficient.”    

The impact generated by the team’s research has played a crucial part in raising standards of health throughout the UK. 

This is one of a series of pieces highlighting Surrey’s research excellence and the REF 2021 impact case studies, published ahead of the 2021 REF results.