Perspective: School Meal Programs Require Higher Vitamin D Fortification Levels in Milk Products and Plant-Based Alternatives-Evidence from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES 2001-2018)

Adv Nutr. 2022 Oct 2;13(5):1440-1449. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmac068.


Poor vitamin D status impairs bone growth and immune defense in school-aged children and adolescents, particularly in minorities. Vitamin D insufficiency/deficiency increases the risk of acute viral respiratory infection, underscoring the need for adequate vitamin D intakes during school sessions when viral exposure may be greatest. We studied available vitamin D-related survey data and published findings based on NHANES (2001-2018) to assess the dependency of vitamin D status {25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D]; in nmol/L} on vitamin D intake (μg/d) in elementary school-aged children (4-8 y), middle school children (9-13 y), and high school adolescents (14-18 y). We sought evidence supporting the need for school programs to facilitate vitamin D adequacy. Usual vitamin D intakes from food and beverages by children/adolescents (NHANES 2015-2018) examined at the 50th percentile intake by race/ethnicity (non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic) showed all age groups consumed less than half of the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for vitamin D (10 μg/d), independent of race/ethnicity. NHANES (2001-2010) analyses show evidence of lower vitamin D status in school-aged children that is linked to lower intakes of fortified milk varying over race/ethnicity and age. Adolescents had lower vitamin D status and milk intake than younger children. A total of 22-44% of vitamin D intakes occurred away from home, with larger percentages of total intakes at breakfast and lunch, at times consistent with school meals. Ever-present inadequate vitamin D intakes with a large percentage consumed away from home together with well-established benefits to growth, bone, and immune defense from enriched vitamin D-fortified milk in school intervention trials provide strong justification to require enriched vitamin D-fortified foods in school meals. An easy to implement plan for improving vitamin D intakes is possible through the FDA's amendment allowing higher vitamin D fortification levels of dairy and plant-based milk alternatives that could increase vitamin D intakes beyond the EAR with just 2 daily servings.

Keywords: 25-hydroxyvitamin D; NHANES; USDA school meal program; plant-based milk intended as milk alternatives; school-aged children/adolescents; vitamin D deficiency; vitamin D insufficiency; vitamin D-enriched milk; vitamin D-fortified milk.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Diet
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Milk*
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin D Deficiency*
  • Vitamins


  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin D