6 mins read
2023 Vitamin D Statistics: 68% of Brits Have Low Vit D Levels
Author: Jamie Braithwaite
December 6, 2023
- Why is Vitamin D Important?
- Why don’t we get enough?
- How much do we need?
- How many of us are low on vit D?
- Is location a factor?
- Which cities have the best vitamin D levels?
- How to increase your Vit D levels
- How can I check my vitamin D level?
- What supplements are best?
- Do pregnant women need more vitamin D?
Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for our health. But, it’s also one that most of us don’t get enough of. We looked at vit D levels in Brits in 2018 and 2020, and despite 2023 having the hottest summer on record, we’ve found the trend has continued, with 68% of people having below optimal levels of vitamin D.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
Before we dive into the statistics, it’s helpful to understand why vitamin D is important, from our bones and immune system to our mental health and muscle function.
- Bone Health: Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the intestines. Without enough vitamin D, the body cannot properly absorb calcium, leading to weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
- Immune System: Vitamin D is involved in the functioning of the immune system. It helps modulate immune responses, and its deficiency has been linked to an increased susceptibility to infections and autoimmune diseases.
- Cell Growth and Regulation: Vitamin D helps to regulate cell growth. Adequate levels of vitamin D are associated with a decreased risk of certain cancers and may contribute to overall cellular health.
- Mood and Mental Health: Some research suggests that vitamin D may have a role in mood regulation and mental health. Deficiency has been linked to conditions such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression.
- Heart Health: There is evidence suggesting that vitamin D may play a role in cardiovascular health. It is associated with improved blood vessel function and may have a protective effect against heart disease.
- Muscle Function: Vitamin D is important for muscle function and may help prevent muscle weakness and pain.
Why don’t we get enough?
During the summer, we get most of our vitamin D from the sun.
Ultraviolet B rays from the sun kick off a process that converts certain types of cholesterol into previtamin D3, an inactive form of vitamin D.
Warmth, such as the heat from the sun, then converts this into active D3, which gets transported to our liver and kidneys before being sent around our body as calcitriol.
We struggle to get enough vitamin D from the sun during the autumn and winter, as the sun is much less powerful and the days are a lot shorter. This leads to a deficiency, which can cause illness, fatigue and cause conditions like SAD.
Only a handful of foods contain vitamin D (oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolk and fortified cereals), so it can be hard to get enough from our diet alone. Supplementation can help, such as a daily vitamin or spray.
How much do we need?
The NHS recommends vitamin D levels between 80-100 nmol/L.
Adults and children over 4 years old need 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D per day to maintain healthy levels. From birth to 4 years old, NICE recommends using a daily vitamin d supplement drop.
How many of us are low on vit D?
We looked at data from 2,753 Forth customers to see how many people are low on vitamin D.
We found that 68% of people had a vitamin D level below the optimal range (80-100 nmol/L). The average level was 72.4 nmol/L.
There was no difference between genders, with 68% of both men and women having low vitamin D levels.
However, women had a lower average level at 71.9 nmol/L, compared to 72.8 nmol/L for men.
“This backs up the consensus that most people in the UK are Vitamin D deficient. This particularly affects non-Caucasian people as the increased melatonin in the skin. the current guidelines suggest that all people need a minimum of 400iu a day, but as we’re not all the same, checking your levels first is a great place to start to understand your individual vitamin D needs.“Dr Thom Phillips
We also broke the data down to look at age groups. We found that those aged 30-39 had the lowest average levels and highest percentage of low levels.
The 70+ age group had the lowest percentage of people below the optimal range, and were the only group to have an average level in the optimal range.
|Average Level (nmol/L)
It seems the older we get, the better our vitamin D levels are. Perhaps this is because we’re able to spend more time enjoying the outdoors after we retire or are more health conscious as we get older.
“Looks like our customers are enjoying their retirement! There are also a proportion of older people who will be prescribed vitamin D supplements by their GP so it’s not too surprising that the slightly older demographic have better levels. Also this may reflect that all of us are terrible at understanding long term risks, and are less inclined to make positive health choices when we’re younger.“Dr Thom Phillips
Is location a factor?
We also wanted to know if where we live plays a role in our vitamin D levels. Does living in the countryside mean you get more vitamin D than those living in busy urban areas?
First of all, let’s look at the average vitamin D level by region:
|Average Level (nmol/L)
|Yorkshire and the Humber
People in Scotland had the highest average vitamin D levels at 80.4 nmol/L, followed by those in Northern Ireland (77.1 nmol/L) and the North West of England (75.1 nmol/L).
The East Midlands (68.8), the South West (68.9) and Greater London (69.3) had the lowest average levels.
This shows that where you live may have an effect on your vitamin D levels, but as all regions are still below the optimal range, it’s safe to say that no matter where you live in the UK, you may still struggle to get enough.
Which cities have the best vitamin D levels?
We looked at which UK cities have the highest average vitamin D levels and found that Bradford was the best – with an average level of 101.8 – the only city to have an average level above the optimal threshold.
4 cities had average levels within the optimal range – Southampton, Stockport, Surrey and Glasgow. Edinburgh just missed out on joining Glasgow in the optimal range, with 79.4.
Below are the top 20 cities by average vit D levels.
|Average Vit D Level (nmol/L)
How to increase your Vit D levels
The best way to increase and maintain your vitamin D levels, especially during the winter, is to get as much sunlight as you can, take a daily supplement and ensure you’re eating foods that contain vit D.
Make sure to read the labels of any supplements you’re thinking of buying, as many are underdosed – meaning they don’t offer as much vitamin D as you need.
There is some research that suggests endurance exercise, such as running and cycling, can increase serum vitamin D levels, too.
How can I check my vitamin D level?
A blood test is the best way to check your vitamin D levels. Our vitamin D blood test is an at-home, finger prick test. That means there’s no needles – just collect a small sample of blood from your finger tip using the lancets included in the kit, and post it back to our NHS labs for analysis.
We also offer more comprehensive tests, like our Baseline Health Check, which not only checks your vitamin D levels, but a whole range of other biomarkers that can affect your energy, immune system, bone health and more.
Two thirds of customers increased their vitamin D level after using testing at home with our blood tests.
Can tanning beds help with low vit D?
Although it might seem like a good idea during the winter, tanning beds are not an effective or safe way to boost your vitamin D levels. We use Ultraviolet B (UVB) to produce vitamin D from the sun, but tanning beds use Ultraviolet A (UVA), which penetrates deep into the skin and can cause skin cancer.
What supplements are best?
At Forth we always try to promote a food (and in this case, safe sun!) first approach. However, we also need to acknowledge that sometimes supplements may be a quicker and convenient way to ensure you’re hitting your nutrient targets.
In the UK, vitamin and mineral supplements are classed as food, not medicines, and as such do not always meet the high safety standards expected of a medicine.
Always use a reputable retailer and check the labels carefully for allergens, additives and flavour enhancers. I usually recommend people use Informed Sport (https://www.wetestyoutrust.com/) labelled products. These are independently batch tested and accredited, so you know you’re getting a quality product.
Do pregnant women need more vitamin D?
As well as being important for the mother, vitamin D helps with foetal development, making it an important nutrient for both mother and baby. The NHS recommends pregnant women take a daily supplement between September and March, and keep to 10 micrograms a day.
- Met Matters: World’s hottest week on record follows the UK’s hottest June:
- Adequate vitamin D level associated with reduced risk of sporadic colorectal cancer:
- Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine?:
- Vitamin D Deficiency and Risk for Cardiovascular Disease:
- NHS: Consensus Vitamin D position statement:
- Exercise: A Possibly Effective Way to Improve Vitamin D Nutritional Status:
This information has been medically reviewed by Dr Thom Phillips
Thom works in NHS general practice and has a decade of experience working in both male and female elite sport. He has a background in exercise physiology and has published research into fatigue biomarkers.
Dr Thom Phillips
Head of clinical services
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