Study Results Show Low Vitamin D Levels in Young Individuals of Color

Black and Hispanic populations have high rates of deficiency, which continue to drop with age, according to University of Houston College of Nursing data.

Results of a study from the University of Houston College of Nursing showed that 61% of otherwise healthy Black and Hispanic adolescent have low vitamin D levels, which drops with age.

“Black and Hispanic populations have a markedly high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and higher incidence and worse outcomes for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and renal disease, all of which have been linked to vitamin D levels,” Shainy Varghese, PhD, RN, CPNP, associate professor of nursing at the UH College of Nursing, said in a statement.

The investigators examined the records of 119 ethnically diverse adolescents aged 12 to 18 from a suburban clinic in Southeast Texas.

Other research shows that vitamin D can have a great impact on the immune system, boosting mood, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, and preventing certain cancers. Additionally, data show that among individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19, those with low vitamin D levels had more severe respiratory symptoms than those with normal levels.

“This paper calls attention to the need to raise awareness among clinicians regarding social determinants of health and culturally sensitive dietary practices to improve vitamin D levels and prevent long-term complications,” Varghese said in the statement.

Investigators added that social determinants of health, including community context, economic stability, education, health care access, neighborhood, and social context likely affect vitamin D levels.

They said that this is especially true in communities of color because food insecurity and lack of access to health care and health education are barriers to healthy nutrition.

Vitamin D is naturally produced in the body as a response to the sun, but absorption is more difficult for individuals with darker skin tones, because melanin absorbs and blocks ultraviolet light from reaching cells that produce vitamin D.

“Nurses are many times the first health care provider an adolescent may encounter, like school nurses. This study can help nurses and health care providers assess the need adolescents may have for vitamin D supplements,” Kathryn Tart, EdD, MSN, RN, founding dean of the University of Houston College of Nursing, said in the statement.

Vitamin D can also be ingested when eating food, such as dairy products, eggs, salmon, trout, and tuna.

However, investigators reported that when children grow older, they may consume less of these foods, resulting in lower vitamin D levels.

The investigators recommend adding a standardized instrument to annual physicals and well-child checks to screen the dietary habits and identify nutritional to tailor dietary recommendations.

“Knowledge and understanding of the prevalence of low vitamin D levels, underlying features, and risk of low vitamin D levels among different ethnic groups are essential for primary care providers who must identify at-risk populations starting at a young age,” Varghese.

The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care.

Reference

Study finds low vitamin D levels in young people of color. EurekAlert. News release. June 28, 2022. Accessed July 1, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/957302

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