Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin essential for your health and well-being.1 It plays many important roles in the body, especially in the proper development and maintenance of normal, healthy bones.2 Vitamin D supports optimal mineralisation of bone by facilitating calcium absorption in the digestive tract1 and by maintaining normal calcium and phosphate levels in the blood.2 Without enough vitamin D, bones can become thin, malformed and brittle.1 Vitamin D is also needed for healthy immunity, cardiovascular function and hormones.2

The body produces most of the vitamin D that you need in your skin, during regular exposure to sunlight. Health concerns about too much sun exposure mean that even in Australia, despite plenty of sunshine in most areas, low vitamin D levels are still a concern.3 People at risk of a vitamin D deficiency include:

  • People with naturally very dark skin
  • People who are not exposed to enough sunlight
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  • Breastfed babies with other risk factors
  • Certain health conditions

People with naturally very dark skin

Dark coloured skin has less ability to produce vitamin D because melanin, the skin pigment, acts as a filter to UVB rays.

People who are not exposed to enough sunlight

Many people work long hours indoors in an office environment most days of the week. This reduces both incidental and recreational exposure to sunlight, especially in winter.3 In addition to office workers, there are many other groups of people who may be at risk of a vitamin D deficiency due to little or no sun exposure including:4

  • Older adults who may be frail or housebound
  • People who wear concealing clothing for cultural/religious reasons
  • People who avoid the sun on purpose because of cosmetic/health concerns
  • People who are hospitalised for extended periods of time

Breastfed babies with other risk factors

Breastfed babies who fall into the risk categories above are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Additionally, a breastfed baby whose mother is low in vitamin D or was low in vitamin D during pregnancy is at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Breastmilk contains very little vitamin D, which means that breastfed babies rely on their mothers’ stores. If the mother has low levels, her baby is also at risk of being deficient. This isn’t a concern for formula fed infants, as formula is fortified with vitamin D.4

Individuals with certain health conditions

People suffering from conditions that affect vitamin D metabolism may be at risk of developing a deficiency. Certain medicines can also increase vitamin D breakdown in the body and cause low vitamin D.4