Diet, environmental factors, and lifestyle underlie the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in healthy adults in Scotland, and supplementation reduces the proportion that are severely deficient

J Nutr. 2011 Aug;141(8):1535-42. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.140012. Epub 2011 Jun 22.


Vitamin D deficiency has recently been implicated as a possible risk factor in the etiology of numerous diseases, including nonskeletal conditions. In humans, skin synthesis following exposure to UVB is a potent source of vitamin D, but in regions with low UVB, individuals are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Our objectives were to describe the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and to investigate determinants of plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD) concentrations in a high northern latitude country. Detailed dietary, lifestyle, and demographic data were collected for 2235 healthy adults (21-82 y) from Scotland. Plasma 25-OHD was measured by liquid chromatography-tandem MS. Among study participants, 34.5% were severely deficient (25-OHD <25 nmol/L) and 28.9% were at high risk of deficiency (25-40 nmol/L). Only 36.6% of participants were at low risk of vitamin D deficiency or had adequate levels (>40 nmol/L). Among participants who were taking supplements, 21.3% had a May-standardized 25-OHD concentration >50 nmol/L, 54.2% had 25-50 nmol/L, and 24.5% had <25 nmol/L, whereas this was 15.6, 43.3, and 41%, respectively, among those who did not take supplements (P < 0.0001). The most important sources of vitamin D were supplements and fish consumption. Vitamin D deficiency in Scotland is highly prevalent due to a combination of insufficient exposure to UVB and insufficient dietary intake. Higher dietary vitamin D intake modestly improved the plasma 25-OHD concentration (P = 0.02) and reduced the proportion of severely deficient individuals (P < 0.0001). In regions with low UVB exposure, dietary and supplement intake may be much more important than previously thought and consideration should be given to increasing the current recommended dietary allowance of 0-10 μg/d for adults in Scotland.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / epidemiology*


  • Vitamin D