press release
Published: 18 August 2021

Vitamin D deficiency is a global health issue for the black community, finds new study from the University of Surrey

New research from the University of Surrey has recommended that people from the African-Caribbean community should consider increasing their consumption of vitamin D rich foods and taking additional vitamin D supplements, especially in the winter months.

Vitamin D is made when the skin comes into contact with sunshine; however, we can also get vitamin D from our food intake. It has several important functions within the body, but it is primarily known for promoting calcium absorption, which makes it a vital nutrient for bone health.

In a paper published by The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Surrey’s researchers conducted a systematic review of the vitamin D and dietary intakes of members of the black community across the globe. The findings suggest that people of African descent should consider taking vitamin D supplements and consume more vitamin D rich foods.

The researchers found that when looking at black individuals who live in low latitude countries (such as Brazil and South Africa), there was vitamin D sufficiency. However, in those who live at higher latitudes, such as in the UK, vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency was common.

The Surrey researchers' findings suggest that awareness of vitamin D deficiency needs to be highlighted in African-Caribbean populations, especially those living in countries like the UK where low dietary vitamin D intake was prevalent.

Rebecca Vearing, PhD research student from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Surrey, said: “As the majority of our vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight, for many people getting enough vitamin D may be a real challenge. This research shows that eating a nutritionally balanced diet including foods that provide vitamin D -- such as oily fish, red meat, egg yolk and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals -- and taking regular supplements are key to boosting vitamin D status.”

These findings are supported by a second paper from Surrey published by The Journal of Nutrition, where researchers studied how vitamin D supplements and sunlight exposure affect the health of Brazilian women living in both the UK and Brazil.*

This first-of-its-kind study examined two groups of the same ethnic identity and sex, living in different countries in an identical way and looked at whether supplements or sunlight altered the vitamin D status of its participants.

Researchers studied 120 healthy Brazilian women in parallel, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trials conducted at different latitudes in Brazil and England. Participants were chosen randomly to receive a daily vitamin D supplement or placebo for 12 weeks during the wintertime.

Researchers found that although vitamin D dietary requirements may vary considerably between participants in each country, a moderate dose of vitamin D supplementation is a remarkably effective strategy for raising and maintaining adequate vitamin D levels over the winter months in both the UK and Brazil.

The participants with the lowest initial vitamin D levels had the most significant increases in response to vitamin D supplements.

Overall, the study found that the effect of vitamin D supplements is not dependent on latitude.

Dr Marcela Mendes, visiting research fellow from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Surrey, said: “Our research looks at different ethnic groups, and our findings show that people might benefit from increasing consumption of foods that naturally contain vitamin D or are fortified with it, or even taking an additional supplement, in the autumn and winter, regardless of where they live.”

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