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Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies are on the rise

3 min read

According to the UK's latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey intakes of vitamins and minerals have decreased drastically since 2008 and this is leading to deficiencies of important nutrients including vitamin A, fibre and iron.

The report, which pulled information from a number of different sources including interviews, diet diaries and blood and urine samples, covered a 9 year period from 2008 to 2017. The results were grouped by age and gender and provides evidence to help form dietary advice.

Drop in intake of folate and vitamin A particularly marked

The report clearly shows intakes of most vitamins and minerals are down but the drop is particularly marked for folate and vitamin A.

Results showed that folate concentrations in the blood were decreased for most age and sex groups and there was a significant average yearly reduction in vitamin A intake for all groups:

  • Children aged between 18 months and 18 years had an average yearly reduction of vitamin A of nearly 4%,
  • those aged 19 to 64 it was 2% reduction
  • those 65 and over it was 4% reduction.

Leading on from this, a 19% rise in risk of anaemia in children aged between 11 and 18 and a 9% increase in risk for adults was seen.

Huge proportion of women of childbearing age have folate deficiency

Very worryingly there was an overall increase from two thirds to 90% in the proportion of women of childbearing age with a blood folate deficiency. This increases the likelihood of neural tube defects in infants. 

In fact the UK is thought to have the highest rate of Neural Tube Defects recorded in Europe, this is leading to pressure being placed on the UK government to introduce mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid, which will help to combat the issue. UK flour is already fortified with calcium carbonate and thiamin (vitamin B1).

More bad news from the report is that many, in particular girls and women, are falling short on their iron intake. A significant increase in the number of girls aged 11 to 18 and adult women 19 to 64 were seen to have iron intakes below the RDA.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) thinks iron deficiency anaemia is one of the most severe nutritional deficiencies globally with women and infants most at risk.

In response to this Nestle have in fact recently invested in a new fortification technology with the aim of tackling global iron deficiency, something recently reported on here.

There has recently been a push to increase fibre intake however average intakes on the nine years studied see it well below recommended levels. Interestingly though, men aged 19 to 64 showed a significant increase which is positive.

British people consume just over half of the recommended fibre intake

The recommended intake of fibre per day is 30g, on average British people consume just over half of that at 18g. On a positive note however, there has been a growing interest in fibre as people become more aware of it's benefits to gut health which is another growing wellness trend. This is turn is pushing new products with high fibre claims into the market - lets hope, with these sorts of innovations, deficiency issues are put into reverse.

Vitamin D

It's expected that vitamin D levels will drop in the winter time due to the fact that we don't get enough sun exposure to synthesize the sufficient amounts however surprisingly this issue is getting worse. Between January and March nearly 20% of children aged 4 to 10 and 37% of children aged between 11 and 18 and nearly a third of adults were at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

In 2016 the UK government updated their official advice to recommend that all individuals over the age of 5 supplement daily with 10µg of vitamin D during autumn and winter and those younger than 5 be given a supplement every day throughout the year.

It appears that this advice is starting to seep through with Mintel recently reporting on Vitamin D taking over Vitamin C as the UK's favourite single vitamin supplement.

New research by the University of Illinois has suggested that vitamin and mineral deficiencies will continue until 2050 unless nutritionally rich foods are made more accessible.

This suggestion is based on an analysis of a trajectory of diets from now until 2050 and shows that widespread inadequacies in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin E and folate are likely to continue.

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A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.