Providing further evidence that vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide problem, a new study has found high rates of it among populations in Africa. The researchers say that low concentrations of vitamin D in African people are more common than might be expected considering the plentiful sunshine on the continent. Noting the potential health risks associated with a lack of vitamin D, the study concludes that strategies to prevent, detect and treat deficiency need to be incorporated into public health and primary care in African countries.
Published in The Lancet medical journal by researchers from Kenya, South Africa and the United States, the study suggests that, depending on how deficiency is defined, between 18 and 59 percent of African people have inadequate levels of the micronutrient. The researchers found that vitamin D deficiency is particularly common in newborn babies, women, urban populations, populations living in northern African countries, and people in South Africa.
Suggesting that rapid urbanization and associated lifestyle changes could be responsible for the problem, the study notes that populations living in urban areas of Africa had lower concentrations of vitamin D than those in rural areas. With the United Nations estimating that by 2035 more than half of people in Africa will be living in urban areas, the researchers say rates of vitamin D deficiency on the continent are likely to increase in future.
Given the widespread occurrence of vitamin D deficiency uncovered by the study, the researchers say their findings challenge the misconception that a lack of this essential micronutrient is rare on the African continent. Based on the results, the researchers recommend the development of governmental policies and nutritional guidelines to improve the vitamin D status of African people.
Interestingly, some of the data suggest the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in Africa may be similar to that in Europe, where around 40 percent of people are believed to have insufficient levels. A widely cited study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016 found that vitamin D deficiency is evident throughout the European population “at prevalence rates that are concerning and that require action from a public health perspective.”
Globally, while vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be present in all regions, its severity varies widely. Reported prevalence in the United States ranges from 23 to 30 percent, for example, while in the Middle East it ranges from 30 to 90 percent. Around 20 percent of people in Australia are believed to be deficient, with around 56 percent in China. But with growing evidence that optimum levels of vitamin D are significantly higher than those currently recognized by national and international health authorities, the percentage of the global population who have insufficient levels of this micronutrient may be far greater than studies suggest.
Given the list of chronic diseases known to be associated with a lack of vitamin D, there is clearly a global need for effective policies to prevent deficiency among populations. In the continued absence of government and global health authorities taking decisive action in this area, the need to educate people that their health is in their own hands remains as high as ever.