Vitamin D deficiency in British South Asians, a persistent but avoidable problem associated with many health risks (including rickets, T2DM, CVD, COVID-19 and pregnancy complications): the case for correcting this deficiency

Endocr Connect. 2022 Oct 18;11(12):e220234. doi: 10.1530/EC-22-0234. Print 2022 Dec 1.


High vitamin D deficiency rates, with rickets and osteomalacia, have been common in South Asians (SAs) arriving in Britain since the 1950s with preventable infant deaths from hypocalcaemic status-epilepticus and cardiomyopathy. Vitamin D deficiency increases common SA disorders (type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease), recent trials and non-linear Mendelian randomisation studies having shown deficiency to be causal for both disorders. Ethnic minority, obesity, diabetes and social deprivation are recognised COVID-19 risk factors, but vitamin D deficiency is not, despite convincing mechanistic evidence of it. Adjusting analyses for obesity/ethnicity abolishes vitamin D deficiency in COVID-19 risk prediction, but both factors lower serum 25(OH)D specifically. Social deprivation inadequately explains increased ethnic minority COVID-19 risks. SA vitamin D deficiency remains uncorrected after 70 years, official bodies using 'education', 'assimilation' and 'diet' as 'proxies' for ethnic differences and increasing pressures to assimilate. Meanwhile, English rickets was abolished from ~1940 by free 'welfare foods' (meat, milk, eggs, cod liver oil), for all pregnant/nursing mothers and young children (<5 years old). Cod liver oil was withdrawn from antenatal clinics in 1994 (for excessive vitamin A teratogenicity), without alternative provision. The take-up of the 2006 'Healthy-Start' scheme of food-vouchers for low-income families with young children (<3 years old) has been poor, being inaccessible and poorly publicised. COVID-19 pandemic advice for UK adults in 'lockdown' was '400 IU vitamin D/day', inadequate for correcting the deficiency seen winter/summer at 17.5%/5.9% in White, 38.5%/30% in Black and 57.2%/50.8% in SA people in representative UK Biobank subjects when recruited ~14 years ago and remaining similar in 2018. Vitamin D inadequacy worsens many non-skeletal health risks. Not providing vitamin D for preventing SA rickets and osteomalacia continues to be unacceptable, as deficiency-related health risks increase ethnic health disparities, while abolishing vitamin D deficiency would be easier and more cost-effective than correcting any other factor worsening ethnic minority health in Britain.

Keywords: UK South Asians; correction; justification; long-standing; vitamin D deficiency.

Publication types

  • Review