Low vitamin D status continues to remain highly prevalent, with an estimated ⅓ of the population vitamin D deficient throughout the world. This is an important health concern among young adults, since vitamin D has been associated with reproductive health, athletic performance, mental health status and overall quality of life. Additionally, bone mass peaks before the age of 30, meaning bone mass cannot significantly increase after this age.
Since young adulthood is a crucial time to develop long-term health behaviors, this is an ideal stage to begin vitamin D education. However, only a few studies have evaluated the knowledge of vitamin D among young adults. These studies suggest that young adults generally aren’t concerned about bone health, since the health concerns were deemed too distant to warrant present concern.
In order to better engage young adults regarding vitamin D education, researchers determined the need to provide prompt, personally relevant information. Therefore, researchers recently conducted a randomized controlled trial in an effort to improve the knowledge, perceptions, intake and vitamin D status among young adults.
A total of 38 men and 52 women between the ages of 18-25 from Ontario, Canada were included in the study. The participants were randomly assigned to two groups. The intervention group watched a video, received online information regarding vitamin D and used a mobile app to track their vitamin D intake for a period of 12 weeks. The control group did not participate in the intervention, which included the use of the vitamin D calculator app. However, they were offered the intervention upon conclusion from the study due to ethics. A subsample of participants from both groups had their vitamin D levels measured at baseline and completion of the study. The study followed the IOMs thresholds from vitamin D:
- Vitamin D deficiency <10 ng/ml; 25nmol/l
- Vitamin D sufficient for skeletal health: >20 ng/ml; 50 nmol/l
Here is what the researchers found:
- About 57% of patients were considered vitamin D deficient and of those over 70% had levels below 12 ng/ml (30 nmol/l).
- A total of 91% of participants had levels < 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/l) and none met the 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l) cut-off.
- Average vitamin D intake increased significantly from 407 IU prior to beginning the study to 619 IU at completion of the study among all participants (p < 0.001).
- The intervention group experienced a significantly greater increase in average vitamin D intake compared to the control group after controlling for gender and education (p = 0.046).
- Caucasians presented significantly higher 25(OH)D levels compared to non-Caucasians (p = 0.001).
- Average 25(OH)D levels significantly improved among both groups from 6.4 ng/ml (16 nmol/l) at the beginning of the study to 11.6 ng/ml (29 nmol/l) at the end of the study (p < 0.001). However, levels did not differ significantly between groups.
- Vitamin D knowledge increased significantly in the intervention group compared to the control group (p = 0.03).
- The intervention group had an increased recognition for the importance of vitamin D compared to controls (p = 0.04).
The researchers concluded,
“While participating in an intervention did not improve vitamin D status, it led to increased vitamin D intake, knowledge and perceived importance of supplementation.”
It is important to note that although dietary intake of vitamin D may be helpful in improving vitamin D levels, it is highly unlikely for individuals to obtain natural vitamin D levels (40-60 ng/ml) from diet alone. The participants’ inability to achieve vitamin D sufficiency during the study showcases this point. This is why the Vitamin D Council recommends supplementing with 5,000 IU vitamin D3 daily when one is unable to receive daily, safe, sensible sun exposure.
This study provides validation that the use of an online intervention program may provide a successful platform for improving the education and healthy behaviors of young adults. Supplying adequate recommendations for vitamin D intake will likely improve the vitamin D status of those who participate in a comprehensive online program as well.
Sturges, M. & Cannell, JJ. Is an online intervention targeting vitamin D intake, knowledge and status an effective method of raising awareness among young adults? The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, 2016.
Goodman, S., Morrongiello, B. & Meckling, K. A randomized, controlled trial evaluating the efficacy of an online intervention targeting vitamin D intake, knowledge and status among young adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2016.