This week (2 April) the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), part of the Department of Health and Social Care, launched a review to promote the importance of vitamin D to highlight a lack of understanding that is putting bone health at risk.
The call comes as new research from the Royal Osteoporosis Society (ROS) and YouGov shows a concerning lack of awareness of the need for vitamin D – with only around half of people (57%) aware of the importance of it compared to 86% of people that understand the role calcium plays in bone health.
The ROS, the UK’s only national charity dedicated to bone health and osteoporosis has warned that this could mean Brits are missing out on the amount of vitamin D they need to keep bones healthy. The research shows that the amount of time adults are spending outside in the UK has decreased by 32% since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Bone health at risk
Vitamin D is essential for bone strength as it helps our bodies to absorb calcium effectively. A vitamin D deficiency can increase a person’s risk of osteoporosis, a condition where bones lose strength and break more easily. In the UK, 3.5 million people are living with the condition. In fact, most people don’t realise that half of women and 20% of men are expected to break a bone during their lifetime as a result of osteoporosis.2
In the UK, it’s only possible to get the amount we need from sunlight during the vitamin D window between the end of March and September. Worryingly, the research also shows that more than one third of UK adults (37%) incorrectly think they can get enough vitamin D from the sun all year round, which could mean they’re putting their bone health at risk and the prospect of developing the devastating condition.
“Sunlight is one of the best natural sources of vitamin D as it helps our bodies to absorb calcium effectively,” said Julia Thomson, Lead Specialist Osteoporosis Nurse at the Royal Osteoporosis Society. “If you are able to access outside space and feel comfortable doing so, exposing bare skin to sunlight little and often (without sun cream which stops the sun’s rays reaching your skin) in the spring and summer months, can help to increase your vitamin D levels. It’s important to still take care not to burn. Glass blocks the sun’s rays but sitting inside close to an open door or window can also help.
“Depending on your skin type, this could be for as little as ten minutes, once or twice a day between 11am and 3pm. It’s important to take care not to burn, however, the time it takes to make sufficient vitamin D is usually less than the time it takes for skin to be damaged.”
Strictly Come Dancing judge and ROS ambassador, Craig Revel Horwood, explained:
“There are a number of risk factors for osteoporosis which cause bones to lose strength and many of these are related to lifestyle. If we lead an active life and have a balanced diet, it’s easy to think we’re doing enough to protect our bodies. In reality though, you don’t always know if you’re actually getting enough of the nutrients you need, especially when it comes to your bones.
“Many of us are aware we get vitamin D from being outside, but I didn’t realise how important it is for strong bones or how much sunlight you need on your skin every day to get enough. I’ll be getting out and about more now that we’re able to absorb vitamin D from the spring sunshine and I’ll be taking a vitamin D supplement this winter when we can’t get enough from the sun.”
Vitamin D is also included in some foods including oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks or fortified foods but it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. The recent research carried out by the ROS showed that although 63% of UK adults identified diet as another source of vitamin D alongside sunlight, a third (29%) were unable to identify vitamin D-rich food sources.
Public health advice is that during the autumn and winter months, people consider taking a daily 10 microgram (sometimes called 400 units) vitamin D supplement.
You can find out more about vitamin D and how deficiency can put bone health at risk or take the vitamin D quiz at theros.org.uk
If you found Bone health at risk for a third of adults in shocking vitamin D findings helpful, you’ll find more about how vitamins and minerals can help maintain health on our Nutrition channel.Last modified: April 5, 2022