Doctors and healthcare professionals urgently require nutrition education to help reduce UK Vitamin D deficiency according to new research.

The study, presented at the Nutrition Society’s Winter Conference 2019, found that just 57% of healthcare professionals surveyed met clinical recommendations for advising on vitamin D intakes. 

Since 2016, official advice in the UK has been for everyone to take a 10 micrograms supplement of vitamin D each day during Winter and Spring. Vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and young children, are advised to take a supplement all year round. Our bodies obtain most of the vitamin D required from sunlight, but there is not enough natural light between October and April in the UK to meet the recommendation. As a result, a third of UK adults are estimated to be deficient according to data from Public Health England.

The study, undertaken by a team from the University of Surrey and the NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health as part of the D-KAP study, surveyed 82 UK practising primary and secondary care healthcare professionals to explore attitudes, knowledge and practices around vitamin D.

73% reported having received no nutrition training during their careers, with overall knowledge of vitamin D low. Average overall vitamin D knowledge scored just 16% on a scale of 0-100%. Although 94% of those surveyed had positive attitudes towards vitamin D, only 57% met clinical recommendations and advise on dosing was found to be inconsistent. 

Consultants and GPs had a better knowledge of vitamin D than nurses, trainees and junior doctors, but only half of the healthcare practitioners surveyed regularly provided lifestyle advice - with just 50% providing advice on sunlight exposure and only 48% providing nutrition and diet related recommendations.

Emily Fallon BSc (Hons), recent MSc Human Nutrition graduate from the University of Surrey and NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health representative, said,

 “Vitamin D is vital for maintaining bone and muscle health and increasingly, a range of other health conditions. The pro-hormone is particularly important for the elderly, children, pregnant women, those dark-skinned or in overweight/obesity, and people who are unable to expose their skin to sunshine during the summer months. However, vitamin D deficiency is widely prevalent in the UK across all ages, which presents an important public health concern for the population. Healthcare professionals are at the forefront of patient care and are in a position to ensure that patients receive the most up-to-date advice. 

However, our study, led by Professor Sumantra Ray, NNEdPro Founding Chair and Executive Director, and Professor Susan Lanham-New, Head of Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Surrey, shows that this is unlikely to be the case for vitamin D. Building on the information on vitamin D that was provided in the 2016 SACN report and 2018 NICE guidelines, we now need to ensure that doctors and nurses amongst other health professionals have adequate access to training and resources. Such guidance would enable the conveyance of important messages about vitamin D intake to patients and the public, as well as supporting appropriate interventions to prevent or treat vitamin D deficiency.”

The conference abstract is available in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 

Watch the pre recorded webinar: Vitamin D- The sunshine superstar or media hype?