We have today published a special report that reveals how a fifth of people are not aware of Vitamin D...

…with nine in 10 confessing they do not know where they can source it from.

The results come as 90% of the UK public are also feeling ‘as’ or ‘more’ anxious about their health and immunity entering the coming winter when compared to the same period of 2019 as we approach one of the most challenging winters for public health.

The Vitamin D Disconnect, a report which questioned 105 healthcare professionals, over 2,000 members of the UK public, and was supported by leading academics, argues that the lack of public knowledge is putting 13 million people at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, causing the UK to have one of the highest levels of Vitamin D deficiency per person in Europe.

Two-thirds (66%) of healthcare professionals spoken to feel that if the public do not increase their Vitamin D intake it could potentially lead to added strain on the NHS and care workers, while around half (47%) believe it would ‘make the population more vulnerable to future epidemics’.

The report also looked into potential solutions for those looking to increase their Vitamin D intake and found one of the simplest to be the introduction of vitamin fortified foods into diets. This approach allows for a consistent and reliable source of Vitamin D, which doesn’t require big changes in consumer behaviour and can include food items as readily available as bread, such as our Half White Half Wholemeal loaf.

The Vitamin D Disconnect also reveals:

  • 37% do not realise that underconsumption of vitamins can have adverse health effects
  • Only 12% are ‘very familiar’ with the sources of Vitamin D with only 26% knowing it’s obtainable from oily fish such as tuna, salmon or sardines
  • Just 16% know Vitamin D can be found in red meat, whilst only 1 in 10 were aware it is found in mushrooms

The understanding of Vitamin D is worse amongst lower socio-economic groups. Only a quarter (24%) of low-income earners (<£30k) are concerned about deficiency, while more than half (53%) of high-income earners (>£50k) are concerned, with intake of the vitamin increasing 4-6% on average for every £10k increase in household income, the correlation is clear.

Fewer than 1 in 5 healthcare professionals feel that the information around Vitamin D deficiency provided to the public is sufficient (17%) and only one in ten (10%) says the public have a good understanding of its role in supporting immunity. Public information campaigns, education in schools, NHS and pharmacies are felt by healthcare professionals to be the most effective channels for raising awareness around Vitamin D.

In light of recent research suggesting that Vitamin D may have a role in the body’s immune response to Covid-19 Warburtons Half White Half Wholemeal will also be supporting the CORONAVIT study looking into the link.

The CORONAVIT trial, led by Professor Adrian Martineau of Queen Mary University who supported The Vitamin D Disconnect, aims to establish whether a ‘test-and-treat’ approach to correct people’s Vitamin D deficiency during winter will reduce the risk and/or severity of Covid-19 and other acute respiratory infections. The study is running for over six months and involves more than 5,000 volunteers.

Jonathan Warburton, Chairman of Warburtons, said: “The findings of our report have shown just how important it is to ensure the nation is receiving the right levels of vitamin D.  As the days get shorter and we all naturally get less vitamin D from the sun, fortified foods such as our Half White Half Wholemeal range can really help families increase their intake as part of their daily routines.

“We hope the findings of the study and the insight from healthcare professionals will help shine a light on this important issue, helping us all respond to one of the most challenging and unresolved issues of the pandemic – how we create a healthier, more resilient nation in the days, months and years ahead.” 

Dr Zoe Williams said: “Addressing Vitamin D deficiency in the UK is clearly of importance to the nation’s health so it’s great to see Warburtons raising the issue with this report. It really highlights how much there is to do to increase the public’s knowledge about Vitamin D – just expecting people to buy over the counter supplements is not sufficient action, especially since those most affected are the least likely to be able to do so. 

“More focus needs to be put on education, free access to Vitamin D supplementation and fortification of foods, like the Warburtons Half White Half Wholemeal loaf. These are three very important easily accessible solutions in helping to reduce the deficiency levels in the UK.”

Professor Adrian Martineau, Clinical Professor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity at Queen Mary University of London: “Vitamin D is known to be important for bone and muscle health, yet as this report clearly outlines, there is a significant gap in public knowledge about the sunshine vitamin. A particularly concerning finding is that awareness of the importance of Vitamin D is low among some groups who are at the highest risk of deficiency.

“As this report argues, there is a clear need for two key actions going forward. Firstly, we need to make information on Vitamin D more widely available, so people can be sure that their intake is adequate. Critically, this information must be accessible and easy-to-understand, so it reaches all demographics regardless of background or age.

“Secondly, we must continue the focus on increasing the range of ways we can all source Vitamin D, to make it easier to incorporate into our diets. As this report points out, fortification of foods with Vitamin D can provide a safe and steady, low-level intake: profound Vitamin D deficiency, which is so common in the UK, has effectively been eliminated in countries where fortification of foods with Vitamin D is widespread.”

Dr Sam Millar, Quality Director at Warburtons: “For many decades, our work with food experts has given us an innate understanding of how the food we make can play a role in helping the public’s health. Following strong guidance from the NHS, it’s become increasingly clear that addressing Vitamin D deficiency is one of the best steps we can take to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

“Despite this, our report shows that a major obstacle stopping the nation address Vitamin D deficiency comes down to the lack of awareness, from where it can be sourced to how it benefits. As we begin a new chapter learning to live with COVID-19, it is more important than ever that we raise awareness about the powerful way Vitamin D can protect and improve our health and wellbeing, something we hope this report will do.”

Read the full report here.

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