Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in Australia and New Zealand due to several factors which we will present further in this article. It may come as a surprise that Australians are suffering from low levels of vitamin D with so much sunshine all year round, but sun exposure alone is not enough to understand the phenomenon, and it has been limited by certain measures.
Vitamin D is crucial in bone health and development, and it contributes greatly to the body’s ability to prevent infections and diseases like cardiovascular disease or neurological diseases. For these reasons, it’s paramount that we understand what causes vitamin D deficiency and what we can do about it.
Why Is Vitamin D Deficiency Common in Australia?
The main sources of vitamin D in Australia for the general population are sun exposure and through sources of vitamin D in people’s diet. Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish, egg yolks, and fish liver oil. Many other foods, primarily dairy products, are often enriched with vitamin D. Through ultraviolet exposure, our bodies process vitamin D when our skin is directly exposed to sunlight.
One of the reasons why the vitamin D status is worrisome in Australia is that many people have taken drastic preventive measures against skin cancers, reducing sun exposure as much as possible. The risk of skin cancer is a reality, and public health programs like the ones organized by the Cancer Council Australia were so successful that they efficiently reduced risk of skin cancers in the general population. However, this came with an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency throughout the country.
The levels of vitamin D in our body are simply determined by a blood test. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations show if you have a deficiency or not, with levels below 50 nmol being considered a deficiency.
Sun exposure and dietary intake are not the only factors to be looked at when analysing the vitamin D deficiency situation in Australia. Certain factors like age, skin color, and health conditions are directly influencing the body’s capacity to absorb the vitamin in the system. Dark-skinned people and older age groups are more susceptible to deficiencies, and they should be treated in a special way.
Measures Taken to Curb the Upward Trend
As a result of the statistics showing a tendency of the Australian population to have vitamin D deficiency, the government has taken special measures. Certain products, like margarine, are required to be fortified with the minimum levels of vitamin D needed in one’s diet, and producers have to state exactly by what concentration the product was fortified. Vitamin D supplementation is necessary for Australia’s present context, and people should be more aware of the problems deficiencies can cause.
The daily intake recommendations for vitamin D are the following for Australia:
- 200 IU/day for infants, children, and adults no older than 50.
- 400 IU/day for adults aged 50-69
- 600 IU/day for adults older than 70.
For each individual, a special treatment might be required if the levels of physical activity, diet, and health condition indicate the need for extra measures.
You can find more statistics and information in the clinical study published in the Medical Journal of Australia – “Vitamin D and health in adults in Australia and New Zealand: a position statement”.