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Occupation may be a major factor in vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D levels in most occupational groups are well below those considered optimal for health, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health. Shift workers, healthcare workers and indoor workers in particular are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency, researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada suggest. Understanding the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in different professions could improve public health interventions and prevention efforts.

Dr. Sebastian Straube, the corresponding author said: “Our results suggest that occupation is a major factor that may contribute to suboptimal vitamin D levels. Regular screening of vitamin D levels in at-risk groups should be considered for future clinical practice guidelines and public health initiatives. Workplace wellness programs could include education about the importance of adequate vitamin D levels. This could help prevent adverse health outcomes linked to vitamin D deficiency, such as metabolic disorders, psychiatric and cardiovascular disorders, and cancer.”

The researchers found that prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was highest among shift workers (80% of individuals), followed by indoor workers (77%) and healthcare students (72%). Among healthcare workers, rates of vitamin D deficiency varied depending on whether they were students, medical residents (65%), practicing physicians (46%), nurses (43%) or other healthcare professionals (43%). 

Dr. Straube said: “Vitamin D production by the body is reliant on sunshine and UV exposure so any activity that reduces exposure tends to reduce vitamin D levels. Sunlight deprivation in young medical professionals, who may have particularly long working hours, and other indoor workers, puts them at higher risk of both vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency.” 

A high percentage of indoor workers (91%) were also found to have insufficient vitamin D, which means that their levels of vitamin D weren’t necessarily as low as those found in vitamin D deficient individuals, but lower than levels recommended for health. By comparison, 48% of outdoor workers had vitamin D deficiency, while 75% had vitamin D insufficiency. 

In order to evaluate vitamin D levels, deficiency and insufficiency in different occupations and to identify at-risk groups of workers, the authors conducted a systematic review of 71 peer-reviewed journal articles which involved 53,425 individuals in total and spanned a range of latitudes in both the Northern and Southern hemisphere. 

The review may be limited by lack of agreement on the definition of vitamin D deficiency, different methodologies for assessing vitamin D levels across the included studies, and studies taking place at different latitudes, although vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency did not seem to be dependent on study location. The authors caution that heterogeneity between studies may make conclusions derived from their combined data less reliable.


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Notes to editors:

1.    Research article:
Vitamin D levels and deficiency with different occupations: a systematic review.
Sowah et al BMC Public Health 2017
DOI: 0.1186/s12889-017-4436-z

The article is available at the journal website.
Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

2.    BMC Public Health is an open access, peer-reviewed journal that considers articles on the epidemiology of disease and the understanding of all aspects of public health. The journal has a special focus on the social determinants of health, the environmental, behavioral, and occupational correlates of health and disease, and the impact of health policies, practices and interventions on the community.

3.    BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Nature, a major new force in scientific, scholarly, professional and educational publishing, created in May 2015 through the combination of Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education and Springer Science+Business Media.