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Vitamin D fortification urgently needed as children's supplements fall short

Apr 17, 2019 | 3 min read
Vitamin D fortification urgently needed

Many parents may expect that by opting for a multivitamin they’ll be able to meet all their children’s needs, but the latest study shows that belief could be misplaced. Researchers from the universities of Oxford and Southampton, found only 25-36% of children's supplements provide the correct daily dose  of vitamin D.  This study comes after analysis of NHS data showed hospital admissions related to vitamin D deficiency rose by 34% last year, with more than 100,000 cases across England.

A daily 400IU vitamin D supplement is recommended

Public Health England recommends anyone over the age of one receive a daily 400IU vitamin D supplement, while infants aged under one should be given a 340-400IU daily vitamin D supplement.

Vitamin D is important to prevent rickets in children, which affects bone growth and can lead to deformities. The vitamin also mineralises bones and teeth and boosts the immune system. Other studies are starting to reveal the neurohormonal effects of vitamin D on brain development, behaviour, cognition and memory with a link to mental health disorders especially in the elderly.

Only a quarter of on the shelf products supply the recommended daily dose

The study by Oxford and Southampton University published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood looked at 67 products labelled as containing vitamin D or promoting “healthy bones”. Manufacturers included Bassetts, Haliborange, Holland and Barrett, and Vitabiotics, all sold by Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Boots, Holland and Barrett, Lloyds Pharmacy and Superdrug.

They found among the 67 products vitamin D doses varied but only around a third met recommended daily levels.

They found only one multivitamin was suitable for use from birth - and this supplied 200 IU per day - and only one was appropriate for children aged under six months.

Among the 24 specific vitamin-D products and vitamins marketed as being for healthy bones, the vitamin D content ranged from 50 to 1,000 IU. Six products of these were suitable from birth, of which five contained 340 to 400 IU per day - the recommended amount.

The team also looked at the government's Healthy Start scheme which provides free multivitamins to low-income families, the researchers found the vitamins provided by this scheme gave only 300 IU per day of vitamin D.

The authors of the study said:

"Multivitamins typically had lower vitamin D content than pure vitamin D supplements or 'healthy bones' products, although some products labelled as 'for bones' contained very low levels of vitamin D.

"To obtain the correct dose, they said, children "would either have to take over the recommended dose, which may increase the risk of toxicity from the other components, or they would have to take a combination of vitamin D and multivitamins, which is more expensive".

The government should consider fortification

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, of the Royal College of Paediatrics, said the findings were “highly concerning”. He told the BBC that the government should consider fortifying some food and milk with vitamin D.

"A normal healthy UK diet provides less than 10% of the recommended amount of vitamin D.

"To learn that so many products fail to provide children with the recommended level of Vitamin D is highly concerning, especially when latest evidence shows our children's average intake are still below the recommended amount.

"These products are misleading parents who think they are protecting their children from serious conditions such as rickets, poor growth and muscle weakness.

"I would advise all parents to check that the supplements they use contain the recommended 400 units of vitamin D and consult their pharmacist if they are unsure."

Supplements are design to bridge a nutritional gap

In the BBC report, Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the industry-funded health and food supplements information service (HSIS), said:

"Food supplements are meant to supplement the diet, not replace the nutrients obtained from foods.

"In that respect, and since there are varying recommendations across different age groups of children, it is right that different supplements offer different doses.

"Smaller doses allow parents to use the same product for younger and older children by varying the amount given.

"Many of the supplements in this survey would actually bridge the dietary gap topping up intake towards the recommended 10 microgram daily."

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