This overlooked health problem is getting new attention. Leading public health experts are convening in Washington DC for a two-day summit to address the vitamin D problem. The goal of the conference, undertaken by the National Institutes of Health, is to identify public health strategies to address the epidemic.
Called the sunshine vitamin because people make their own when sunlight hits the skin, vitamin D is also found in fortified milk, one of the few food sources for this nutrient. With people spending more time indoors, especially as cold weather approaches, and the frequent swapping of milk for soda Americans aren't getting the vitamin D they need.
According to Michael Holick, M.D., Ph.D., a leading vitamin D researcher and professor at Boston University, it is a problem for teenagers, men and women and a particular problem for African Americans, who are also not getting the calcium they need. "A minimum of 25 percent of adolescents and adults in this country are vitamin D deficient. Several factors are contributing to the increasing rates of vitamin D deficiency we're experiencing today," he said.
"Lower intake of vitamin D-fortified foods, particularly milk, along with reduced intake of calcium-rich foods, including milk in adolescents and young women, coupled with an increase use of sunblock to reduce exposure to sunlight, are the driving factors placing our nation and its children at risk for vitamin D-related diseases. As one easy solution, milk -- one of the best sources of vitamin D -- should be incorporated as part of an overall healthy diet.