Results from a University of Houston College of Nursing study indicate that 61% of otherwise healthy black and Hispanic adolescents have low levels of vitamin D, which actually decline with age. The research fills a knowledge gap about groups of people with a vitamin D deficiency.
“Black and Hispanic populations have a remarkably high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and a higher incidence and worse outcomes for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and kidney disease, all of which have been linked to vitamin D mirrors,” Shainy Varghese, an associate professor of nursing at the UH College of Nursing, reports in the Pediatric Healthcare Journal† Her team examined the records of 119 ethnically diverse adolescents, ages 12-18, from a suburban clinic in Southeast Texas.
The benefits of vitamin D cannot be underestimated. It has been reported to have a major impact on strengthening the immune system, preventing certain cancers, boosting your mood, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, and more. Research also shows that in patients who are positive for COVID-19, those with low levels of vitamin D had more severe respiratory symptoms than those with normal levels of vitamin D.
“This paper draws attention to the need to raise awareness among clinicians about social determinants of health and culturally sensitive dietary habits to improve vitamin D levels and prevent long-term complications,” she added.
Social determinants of health include economic stability, access to education and health care, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context – all of which are likely to affect vitamin D levels, especially among communities of color due to food insecurity and lack of access to health care and health education are obstacles to healthy nutrition.
Canned vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because the body naturally produces it in response to the sun, but absorption is more challenging for darker skinned people. Melanin absorbs and blocks UV light from reaching the cells that produce vitamin D.
It can also be taken when eating certain foods such as salmon, trout, tuna, eggs and dairy products fortified with it. But, according to the report, as children grow older and have more autonomy, their choice of sugar-sweetened drinks may replace milk consumption, further lowering their vitamin D levels.
Varghese’s team includes Julia Benoit, research assistant professor of optometry at the UH College of Optometry and Teresa McIntyre, research professor at the UH College of Nursing.
“Nurses are often the first caregivers an adolescent encounters, such as school nurses. This study can help nurses and caregivers assess the need adolescents may have for vitamin D supplements,” said Kathryn Tart, founding dean of UH College. van Nursing and Humana endowed Dean’s Chair in Nursing.
We understand that vitamin D levels are low across the board — seven in ten American children have low levels, which increases their risk of several acute and chronic diseases. But the relationship between ethnic diversity and vitamin D levels is underexposed and limited in adolescents.”
Shainy Varghese, Associate Professor of Nursing, UH College of Nursing
“Knowledge and understanding of the prevalence of low vitamin D levels, underlying characteristics, and risk of low vitamin D levels among different ethnic groups are essential for primary care providers who need to identify at-risk populations at an early age,” said Varghese, who recommends developing a add standardized tool to well-child checkups/annual physics to screen dietary habits and identify nutritional deficiencies to tailor nutritional recommendations based on the findings.
Varghese, S.B., et al. (2022) Vitamin D levels in primary care ethnic minority adolescents. Pediatric Healthcare Journal† doi.org/10.1016/j.pedhc.2022.05.002†
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