Study: Black, Hispanic Adolescents Have Lower Vitamin D Levels

A recent study found that 61% of otherwise healthy Black and Hispanic adolescents have low vitamin D levels, which continues to drop with age.

The results of a study from the University of Houston College of Nursing showed that 61% of otherwise healthy Black and Hispanic adolescents have low vitamin D levels, which continues to drop 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 years from a suburban clinic in Southeast Texas.

Prior research shows that vitamin D can have a beneficial impact on the immune system, preventing certain cancers, boosting mood, and lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the authors of the current study. Additionally, it has been found that among individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19, those with low vitamin D 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 economic stability, education, health care access, neighborhood, social context, and community context, are likely to impact vitamin D levels. They say this is especially true among communities of color because food insecurity and lack of access to health care and health education care 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 since melanin absorbs and blocks UV lights 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 foods such as salmon, trout, tuna, eggs, and dairy products; 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 well-child checks and annual physicals to screen the dietary habits and identify nutritional defects 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 said in the statement.

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